• Notes from the American Cultural Revolution

    July 11, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump


     
    Is America on the edge of a cultural revolution? After the failure to change so many times (say their names for a complete list) is society ready to take action against racism? Or is it just about statues again?

     

    I’m ambivalent about statues being torn down per se, but terrified of the thought process behind the destruction. Decisions should never be made by mobs. That happens alongside the rewriting of history to fit a narrative (see The 1619 Project) and the banning of books which challenge the conformist view of Blue Check Twitter. To hell with the statues of J.K. Rowling, but fear the thought which destroys them.

    The historical namesake and obvious parallel for all this is the Cultural Revolution in China, 1966-1976. Its stated goal was to purge capitalist and revisionist/traditional elements from society, and to substitute a new way of thinking based on Mao’s own thoughts. The epic struggle for control and power used the currency of the way people thought, seeking to emulsify meaning by waging war against anybody on the wrong side of an idea.

    To set the mobs on someone one would only have to tie him to an official blacklist like the Four Olds (old customs, culture, habits, and ideas.) China’s young people and urban workers formed Red Guard units to go after whomever was outed. Violence? Yes, please. When Mao launched the movement in May 1966 he told his mobs to “bombard the headquarters” and made clear “to rebel is justified.” He said “revisionists should be removed through violent class struggle.” The old thinkers were everywhere and were systematically trying to preserve the elements of their power, subjugation of the people through culture being one of them.

    Whetted, the mobs took the task to heart: Red Guards destroyed historical relics, statues, and artifacts, and ransacked cultural and religious sites. Libraries were burned. Religion was considered a tool of capitalists so churches were destroyed, and even the Temple of Confucius was wrecked. Eventually the Red Guards moved on to openly killing people who did not think as they determined. Where were the police? The cops were told not to intervene in Red Guard activities. Enforcement hardly mattered; the national police chief pardoned Red Guards for their crimes anyway.

    Education was singled out, as it was the way the old values were preserved and transmitted. Teachers, particularly those at universities, were considered the “Stinking Old Ninth” and were widely persecuted. The lucky ones just suffered the public humiliation of shaved heads while others were tortured. Many were slaughtered or harassed into suicide. Schools and universities were eventually just closed down and over 10 million former students were sent to the countryside to perform hard labor in the Down to the Countryside Movement. A lost generation was left to fester, uneducated.

    The Red Guard pogroms eventually included cannibalization of revisionists in Guangxi. After all, as Mao said, a revolution is not a dinner party.

     

    The Cultural Revolution destroyed China’s economy and traditional culture, leaving behind a death toll ranging from one to 20 million. Nobody really knows. The Revolution was a war on the way people could think, and the Red Guard a mob set loose as its warriors. It failed. One immediate consequence of the Revolution’s failure was the rise in power of the military when regular people had had enough and wanted order restored. And oh yeah, China became even more of a capitalist society than it ever imagined in pre-Revolution days. Oh well.

    That’s probably a longer version of events than a column like this would usually feature. A tragedy on the scale of the Holocaust in terms of human lives, an attempt to destroy culture on a level that would embarrass the Taliban and titillate BLM, this topic is not widely taught in American colleges. I had the honor of speaking to an elderly Chinese academic who had been forced out of her classroom to the countryside and made to sleep outside with the animals during the Revolution. She recalled long forced self-criticism sessions which required her to guess at her crimes, as she had done nothing more than teach literature, a kind of systematic revisionism in that it espoused beliefs her tormentors thought contributed to the rotten society. She also had to write out long apologies for being who she was. She personally was held responsible for four thousand years of oppression of the masses. Our meeting was last year, before white guilt became a whole category on Netflix, but I wonder if she’d see how similar it all is.

    And small world — students in China are again outing teachers, sometimes via cellphone video, for “improper speech,”  teaching hurtful things from the past using the wrong vocabulary. Other Chinese intellectuals are harassed online for holding outlier positions, or lose jobs for teaching novels with the wrong values. Once shunned as anti-free speech, most UC Berkeley students would likely now agree such steps are proper. And in Minnesota To Kill A Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn are banned because in historical settings fictional characters use a racial slur sadly common then.

    There are no statues to the Cultural Revolution here or in China to trigger a discussion. Nobody builds monuments to chaos. But it’s never really about the statues anyway. In America we moved quickly from demands to tear down the statues of Robert E. Lee to Thomas Jefferson to basically any Caucasian, including “White Jesus.” It was never going to stop with confederate generals because it was not really about racism, any more than the Cultural Revolution was really about capitalism. This is about rewriting history for political ends, both short-term power grabs (Not Trump for 2020!) and longer term societal changes one critic calls the “successor ideology,” the melange of academic radicalism now seeking hegemony throughout American institutions. Author Douglas Murray is more succinct. The purpose “is to embed a new metaphysics into our societies: a new religion.” The ideas — centered on there being only one accepted way of thought — are not noble. They are a cynical tool of control.

     

    It remains to be seen where America goes next in its own nascent cultural revolution. Like slow dancing in 8th grade, maybe nothing is going to come of it. These early stages, where the victims are Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, someone losing her temper while walking a dog in Central Park, and canceled celebrities, are a far cry from the millions murdered for the same goals in China. Much of what appears revolutionary today is just Internet pranking and common looting amplified by an agendaized media. One writer sees “cancel culture as a game, the point of which is to impose unemployment on people as a form of recreation.” B-list celebs and Karens in the parking lot are easy enough targets. Ask the Red Guards; it’s fun to break things.

    Still, the intellectual roots of our revolution and China’s seem similar: the hate of the old, the need for unacceptable ideas to be disappeared in the name of social progress, intolerance toward dissent, violence to enforce conformity. In America these are well-set in our universities, and spreading outward so that everywhere today — movies, TV, publishing, news, ads, sports — is an Oberlin where in the name of free speech “hate speech” is banned, and in the name of creating safety dangerous ideas and the people who hold them are not only not discussed, they are canceled, shot down via the projectile of the heckler’s veto, unfriended, demonetized, deleted, deplatformed, demeaned, chased after by mobs real and online in a horrible blend of self-righteousness and cyber bullying. They don’t believe in a marketplace of ideas. Ideas to the mob are right or wrong and the “wrong” ones must be banished. The choices to survive the mobs are conformity or silence. In China you showed conformity by carrying around Mao’s Little Red Book. In America you wear a soiled surgical mask.

    The philosophical spadework for an American Cultural Revolution is done. Switch the terms capitalism and revisionism with racism and white supremacy in some of Mao’s speeches and you have a decent stump speech text for a Black Lives Matter rally. Actually, you can actually keep Mao’s references to destroying capitalism, they track pretty closely with progressive thought in 2020 America.

    History is not there to make anyone feel safe or justify current theories about policing. History exists so we can learn from it, and for us to learn from it it has to exist for us to study it, to be offended and uncomfortable with it, to bathe in it, to taste it bitter or sweet. When you wash your hands of an idea you also lose all the ideas which grew to challenge it. Think of those as antibodies fighting a disease. What happens when they are no longer at the ready? What happens when a body forgets how to fight an illness? What happens when a society forgets how to challenge a bad idea with a better one? Ask the dead in China.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Will Trump EVER Leave?

    July 3, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    I’ve got a list of bookmarks as long as my fave drug store receipts declaring threats to the republic, end of democracy, and the arrival of dictatorship. When I turn on cable news, the end of America as we know it — the literal end, as in North Korean-style lives for us — is nearly a regular feature alongside weather and sports when we had sports. I’ve tried to make a little career out of debunking that fear mongering. But now I’m scared.

    Joe Biden announced his plans: Biden (who despite appearances is the Democratic candidate for president) said he is “absolutely convinced” the military may have to remove President Trump from the White House if he refuses to leave after losing November’s election. Joe warned “This president is going to try to steal this election… It’s my greatest concern.” Asked whether he’s thought about what would happen if he wins but Trump decides not to leave the White House, Biden responded: “Yes I have.” After mentioning the high-ranking former military officers who spoke out about Trump’s response to BLM protests, he went on: “I’m absolutely convinced they will escort him from the White House.” Biden has been saying this now for months.

    It’s one thing when for clicks goofy Michael Moore, Donny Deutsch or Bill Maher muse Trump will not leave if he loses, or an Op-Ed worries Trump will unleash nuclear apocalypse in some Strangelovian bid to stay in office. Nearly everyone on Autonomous Free Twitter knows the voting will be rigged. Some knucklehead wrote a book about it based on a fan fiction reading of the 12th Amendment. TDS poster child Lawrence Tribe even said it about the midterm elections two years ago. Democrats have voiced “concerns” Trump would use the coronavirus crisis to delay or delegitimize the election.

    But this is Joe Biden saying it: Trump will attempt some sort of unconstitutional coup. Joe Biden who was vice president twice. Joe Biden, Lion of the Senate, and for several centuries the gray representative of the credit card industry. Joe Biden who is not stupid, naive or dramatic.

     

    Biden is, however, just a pawn in the game. They’re setting it up, aren’t they?

    The NYT, as is its role, already fired several signal flares. They characterize Trump as a cornered despot, capable of anything to avoid losing. In another one article the Times announced “Trump Sows Doubt on Voting. It Keeps Some People Up at Night,” quoting a Georgetown University law professor “reactions have gone from, ‘Don’t be silly, that won’t happen,’ to an increasing sense of, ‘You know, that could happen.’” The professor even convened a group to brainstorm how Trump could disrupt the election and to think about ways to prevent it. They speculate Trump could declare a state of emergency, maybe COVID-related, in battleground states, banning polling places from opening. Or Attorney General Barr could Comey-like announce a criminal investigation into Biden.

    The online comment responses to the NYT articles were amazing. People are ready for this. They are convinced Trump is defunding the post office so no one can mail-in absentee ballots (which the left somehow imagines will all be for Biden), and that Trump is sending out coded signals to his militias to take to the streets if it looks like he is losing. One reader is more confident: “We have a National Guard to deal with Trump’s 2nd amendment people” though more than a few claim what happens in November “will depend on where the military’s loyalty lies.” Many think the Supreme Court is a tool in all this, with Kavanaugh a grateful lickspittle linchpin to enable a November coup through some sort of judicial invalidation of the election. Many seem certain Trump will face jail if he leaves office and thus will illegally stay in office to stay out of jail; one says “DJT knows that once voted out he will still have to answer to Putin.”

    That Americans think this way is scary enough. But here’s my nightmare.

    After a long October of rumors from sources about some Surprise (war with Iran, martial law in Seattle) fails to produce a surge in Never Trump voters, the media pivots to the cheating narrative. Trump is doing something with mail in ballots, black people can’t get to the polls in Georgia, the Attorney General in Kentucky will undercount urban areas. The media will explode like a ripe zit, splattering fake news, exaggerations, and experts, all with a single point to make: the results on election day will not be valid if Trump wins. Academics will fan the flames, bleating on about the importance of the popular vote and rehashing old arguments from 2016 about the invalidity of the Electoral College.

    All will be forgotten faster than Robert-What’s-His-Name-Mueller if Biden wins. But if by pre-2016 standards Trump is the winner, boom! The media will refuse to concede. The Dems will put a little lipstick on it with strident local court challenges, demands for recounts, emergency hearings in the House, but keep it out of the Supreme Court. Democrats don’t want a conclusion, they want a crisis. Trump will fulfill his standard role as his own worst enemy and hold rallies to re-declare victory over and over. But the story everywhere else will be Trump is not the president-elect, the election was not legitimate, and that orange bastard’s presence in the White House after January 20 will be a Konstitutional Krisis. Privately the Democratic power brokers will whisper something remarkably undemocratic other than accepting the results of the election has to be done to save our democracy.

    What happens after that is beyond guessing. A best case scenario is some party graybeards get through to an exhausted and befuddled Biden and talk him out of it. A bad scenario has Obama emerge under the guise of being a neutral party to negotiate a (Democratic Party) conclusion. A very bad scenario has the same third party actors who whipped Black Lives Matter protesters into a looting mob repeat the performance. By that point nearly everyone will demand the military step in for different reasons. A very, very bad scenario will have a real-world event intervene, like an enemy abroad taking advantage of the chaos. The need to act expeditiously will slip a “temporary” military government into place faster than CNN can play the Breaking News music.

     

    You believed Trump was a Russian sleeper agent but you’re calling me paranoid? In 2016 learned scholars tested legal theories the Electoral College was invalid, and created a Constitutional Frankenstein where the electors voted for Hillary based on the popular vote. The idea the election was invalid due to foreign influence sullies discussion still today, and one political writer continues to place an asterisk next to the term “President Trump*” to denote questionable claim to the title.

    For nearly four years the same forces that may declare 2020 invalid tried very hard to convince us 2016 already was. There are plenty of Hillary people (including Hillary) who have not accepted 2016. Has Stacey Adams really accepted her defeat yet? Think back to everything that happened during the last election, the gaming done by Comey and the FBI to influence results. Remember how the intelligence community manipulated Russiagate. Why wait for November 2020 to have a coup? We’re been in what Matt Taibbi calls a permanent coup for years. They’ve been practicing to declare 2020 illegitimate, trying out the arguments, teeing them up, trial balloons.

    Any of the those things would have been considered crazy talk only a few years ago. None would have ever passed into the mainstream. Compare Russiagate to the Great Obama Birth Certificate kerfuffle. The idea Obama was ineligible for office festered in right wing talk radio. It was dismissed as factless by just about everyone else. Fast forward to 2016+ and America’s paper of record is happy to front a story the president is subject to blackmail over a pee tape based on nothing but desperate hope it might be true.

     

    The critical tool for a potential end of democracy is peoples’ new conditioned readiness to believe almost anything. The media tells the world what’s important using a very narrow range of truth if available, or just makes things up if truth is not around to be manipulated. When outed, the MSM switches to something else, and though the specific previous topic no longer exists as fact, it devolves into as one part of a broad idea — Trump is bad. Like summing up a range of experiences to say “Yeah, good vacation to Italy.” The people remain on call to be upset about whatever the news says to be upset about next, such as “Trump stole the election.” It’s really very easy. Remember literally overnight the media had people convinced  protesting during lockdown was deadly and then (whoosh, silence=violence) not protesting during lockdown was deadly.

    We end up living exhausted, on knife’s edge, neck deep in cynicism, decline, and distrust. And scared. There are no facts anymore, only what people can be made to believe. That power was not well understood in 2016 and clumsily applied. Today it is ripe for exploitation far beyond generating clicks and ad revenue. I don’t think Trump will try to stay in office if he loses. But there are people who will tell us that to try and play on our fears to steal this election. That’s why I am finally scared.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Am I a Racist? Are You?

    June 27, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy


     
     
    Am I a racist? Are you?

    People tell me I sort of have to be a racist, it’s really not my choice. Today if you’re old, white, from the midwest, a bit conservative? Racist. Maybe you don’t say racist things specifically, and maybe you never did anything to disadvantage a black person yourself, but you’re by original sin part of “systematic racism.

    Now maybe your immigrant parents arrived in the U.S. 75 years after slavery, or you as a white racist have trouble finding a privileged job that pays a living wage. No matter, you’re still privileging from a system going back 400 years whether you like it or not. You can’t change what you are and people hate you for that. That’s the systematic part, defined as “not something that a few people choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic, and political systems in which we all exist.” Dang, ya’ caught me.

     

    I’d like to say most of that was from the news, but in the past days I heard most of that from a close relative, and the rest from a friend of many years, neither of whom want to interact with me anymore. I sent one checks since her birthdays were in single digits. I grew up alongside the other in our education. They have both taken themselves from my life because the Internet told them I am a racist and we all are more alone.

    Crowd-sourced (what old timers call a mob) leftist fundamentalism has given us a country where everyone can be called a Nazi, er, racist, and dismissed. Once the red line was only those damn Nazis, so no “Thank you, Elie Wiesel for that moving account. Now in rebuttal, Hitler’s deputy, Martin Bormann…” But you had to be an actual Nazi to hold an opinion outside the boundary of legitimacy.

    Not any more. Racism scholar Ibram Kendi says one is either racist or anti-racist, there is no room for such thing as a “non-racist.” The NYT said white allies should “Text your relatives and loved ones telling them you will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action in supporting black lives.” Another article described my own situation, claiming “BLM protesters are breaking up with their racist, Facebook-addled relatives.” A Twitter thread about one such family dissolution had over 800,000 likes. HuffPo ran an article from a biracial woman eviscerating her white mother for being too white.

     

    High school debate clubs used to propose a topic in advance but not assign a “side” until just before the match. The idea was you would vigorously support or attack a position you may not personally agree with. You were supposed to learn something intellectual from all this along with the ability to see things from another point of view. It is a vision of the world a long way from calling someone a witch, er, racist, and dismissing them whole.

    We don’t understand debate, or its cousin compromise, anymore. There is no longer any tolerance for others’ views because the current fascism of the left does not see views and opinions as such; they are not acquired thoughts as much as they are innate to who we are, the inside and the outside fixed by color and class. You can’t change, only apologize, before being ignored at family gatherings, unfriended, and canceled. From the NYT firing an editor for running an op-ed by a Senator to me wondering about the practicality of defunding the police and losing a friend over it, there is no legitimate other side. So I can’t speak, I can only whitesplain (used to be mansplain.) People arbitrate my intent before I open my slack jaw. It’s even a job title — a writer at a black news site calls himself a “wypipologist.”

     

    I am unsure where all these woke white people came from. The world around me, since George Floyd’s death, is flooded with overzealous sympathy, the media a waste can for guilt, and people who never heard of the idea a week ago pronouncing themselves deeply committed to defunding the police.

    Companies are stumbling over each other like those who only just found Jesus at an AA meeting to add Black Lives Matter to their web site just above the Sale banner. WaPo reports African Americans have said they’ve been overwhelmed by the number of white friends checking in, with some sending cash because guilt is an expensive hobby. White celebs are swarming to confess their past ignorance on race. In what may be the ultimate expression of shallowness, someone who calls themselves an influencer and life coach posted an Instagram guide on “how to check in on your black friends.” Which corner was everyone standing in solidarity on last week?

    The Slack for a hospitality company I worked for pre-Covid exploded last week when a benign HR data request went out on #BlackOutTuesday. The almost all white staff went insane with accusations of racism. Of course the blind-sided (and now racist) HR drone didn’t think about Tuesday being some private racial Ramadan when we all fasted from reality; she doesn’t follow the right people on Twitter. The mob, in words which sounded like they’d drunk a human growth hormone and Adderall smoothie, barked until the company to issue a sort-of apology. They celebrated as if they’d brought George Floyd back to life.

    It shouldn’t have caught HR so off guard. The unemployees live in a world where “journalism is a profession of agitation.” They were taught nothing matters more than starting a sentence “As a… (woman, harassment survivor, deep sea diver)” because no argument, and certainly no assembled historical fact could be more important than a single lived experience. They were brought up on TV shows that juxtaposed white and black characters like someone was stringing magic diversity beads. They made the boss apologize even though nothing really was different except that made-up racial “holidays” are now on the list of things where there is only one allowable opinion. Soon enough we’ll all be asked over the P.A. to take a knee for the national anthem at sporting events.

     

    The harsh self-righteousness oozed. It sounded very much like people wanted to imagine they were on the cutting edge of revolution, the long-awaited (well, for four years) Reichstag fire. So what makes this moment into a turning point and that $25 donation to a bail fund them into a freedom fighter?

    Not much. Less like taking a stand, it feels more like radical chic from people who have been cooped up for months, cut off from bars and the gym. They don’t seem to know we’ve had this week before. The deaths of Rodney King in 1992, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown under Obama. The protests like the last round of BLM, Occupy, Pink Hats, March for Our Lives, even Live Aid in 1986 when Queen sang for everyone’s racist parents to end hunger forever. Remember in 1970 when Leonard Bernstein threw a cocktail party for the Black Panthers Defense Fund and Tom Wolfe wrote about it? That changed everything; I mean, people used to say “Negro” back then. But I’m pretty sure a year from now there will still be funded police departments.

    It took some rough nights to work out the rules and root out the looters, but even as the protests fade the whole thing became a set piece: the protesters arrive with water bottles to stay properly hydrated and healthy snacks as the route is established with the police a long way from “by any means necessary” boulevard. As long as everyone enjoys their revolutionary cosplay inside the white lines the cops don’t have to spank anyone with pepper spray. The AP describes the once violent protests outside the White House now as having a “street fair vibe.” See, it got complicated explaining how looting beer from a convenience run by Yemeni refugees was connected to racial justice.

    It all reveals itself as hollow because this fight isn’t between racism and anti-racism. It’s Black Rage versus White Guilt. The cops quickly quiet down the former and the media slowly wears out the latter. That means little of the action will have much to do with the real issues but everyone will feel righteously better. Until next time.

    Along the way, however, the collateral damage of wokeness is producing the totalitarianism it purports to challenge by denying any view that challenges it. Ideas are redefined by one side as the bad -isms of racism, sexism, fascism and pulled out of the marketplace along with the people who want to talk about them. No invite to the barbecue, no seat at the Thanksgiving table. In a political system built on compromise I’m not sure how we can get things done in a world like that.

    For me, I’m a good enough man. I am not a racist. I’ll get over my problem with lost friends. America, I’m not so sure.

     

     

     

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  • The Search for Heroes

    June 13, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: #99Percent, 2020, Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump

     

    These are your new heroes: people who invoke the grace of Dr. King to label riots as lawful protests, looting as reparations. To be fair, most of that labeling is not by the thugs themselves, but by the media who elevate them to hero status hoping once again this will bring Trump down. Citing the freedom fighters in the streets, former labor secretary Robert Reich proclaimed “Trump’s presidency is over.”

    Not quite yet. So the MSM report on fires outside the White House with a wink; maybe they’ll burn the place down. The Trump family taking shelter in their bunker was met with articles calling the president a coward for not facing down the mob shouting “Get off my lawn!” The implied hope was there — if we can’t impeach him, maybe we can just have someone kill him. They will deny it, but the media encouraged violence. They hoped for it, they egged it on. “Destroying property which can be replaced is not violence,” NYT’s Nikole Hannah-Jones said. “I think any reasonable person would say we shouldn’t be destroying other people’s property. But these are not reasonable times.”

     

    Meanwhile the media met the prospect of the military’s arrival on mixed ground. The big story was not the standard “order will be restored but my God at what price?!?” but that Trump had “declared war on the American people.” Though 58 percent of voters support the deployment of the military to respond to protests, with only 30 percent opposing, the web is awash in uninformed fear mongering over martial law, posse comitatus, the Insurrection Act, and whatever else a Wikipedia search churns up.

    But underlying was a subtext: you know, maybe a military coup, maybe via martial law, would be OK. We’ve heard that actually for four years, with hopes expressed one of the ex-military men in the White House, maybe Mad Dog, John Kelly, or H.R. McMaster would hero up and assume control. If not directly, then maybe by running the country as the patriot behind the throne. Upon General Mattis’ departure, the The New York Times asked “Who will protect America now?” juxtaposing the warrior-monk with the Commander-in-Cheeto.

    The search for Trump-smiting heroes has strayed far from anyone deserving the title even as the qualification for the job remained hilariously low. Felon Michael Avenatti was a contender, anal porn star Stormy Daniels, and felon Michael Cohen, too. Along the way James Comey, John Brennan, Michael Hayden, Christopher Steele, and James Clapper were all given some hero time, and of course the run by Robert Mueller as Savior-in-Chief. There was the anonymous whistleblower and a handful of State Department drones at the impeachment hearings whose names are so long forgotten they might as well have been anonymous. Even the virus was given the chance at hero status if it would have been horrible enough to end this presidency.

    There were also the mini-heroes like Colin Kaepernick or the women’s soccer team, whose minor protests were turned into national moments by the MSM. They do keep trying for relevancy; pink haired soccer starlet Megan Rapinoe is threatening to run for some office, and joined other minor celebs in signing a petition to defund police forces. Kaepernick started a defense fund for protesters, quoting Malcolm X to warn “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”

     

    The hero-seeking media partnered them with every Democratic black candidate of any type or plain white woman who could check boxes (single mom, lesbian, HIV+, veteran, etc.) The high point of this low point was reached with AOC and her Squad, whose only real accomplishments have been relentless self-promotion and helping push Nancy Pelosi into an impeachment process that squandered the Blue Wave.

    But rioters as the new heroes? That’s who is left? No one wants bad cops, and every day America suffers for its original sin of slavery and 200 year failure to find repentance. The only answer the country seems to have come up with is to allow rioters to run amuck every few years to let the pressure reset. Pick your favorite — the TV version following Rodney King, the blast from Ferguson, or something old school from the 1970s out of Watts or the Bronx.

    In New York City we face an 8 pm everyone-off-the streets curfew, the first in 75 years (the COVID lockdown is also concurrently still in effect.) But the protests continue, with several hundred people last night closing down streets adjacent to my apartment building. Many stores in this part of America’s richest city had already been boarded up; the men putting up the plywood coming in from white working class neighborhoods in nearby Queens said to me they’re grateful for the work post-COVID, “but if I ever have to do this for my own neighborhood some mf is gonna suffer.”

     

    The protesters themselves were about two-thirds white, uniformly in their mid-to-late twenties. People wearing Bernie t-shirts outnumbered those still practicing social distancing by about 6:1. Everyone who would tell me where they lived said Brooklyn but if you live here you would have already guessed that. The blacks in the group appeared to be joining spontaneously from the surrounding public housing blocks and not mingling. Their chants weren’t the organized ones of the white kids, mostly “f*ck the police” accompanied by gang signs or middle fingers, just rage cleansed of politics.

    None of the black protesters would speak to me, but the white protesters wouldn’t stop. They knew media and my notebook drew them like shadows to a lamp. Asked what they wanted, everyone had their lines down — it was justice and peace — but no one really had an answer to how this demonstration would help create those things. What law could Congress pass to fix any of this? Raising awareness seemed to be the closest anyone could get.

     

    Some apartments in the area have hired private security, those beefy guys you usually see checking IDs at night clubs. One hotel employee said his five-star place had former SEALS at the door. Two NYPD helicopters were overhead for almost two hours, top cover Baghdad-style, watching the rooftops. People living nearby are angry and afraid, and such people will defend themselves, and that will be a terrible, terrible thing. It seems leaders on all sides are setting us against each other and we are embracing that as a new way of life. When was your last pleasant but intense political discussion with friends?

    It was hard to connect the odd collection of images and impressions from the street with a new theme among the righteous but uneducated on social media. They seem to think burning a Target is the modern equivalent of the American Revolution against the British. I listened to the Hamilton score twice now, and even read the Klassic Komics version of Federalist Papers, and can’t find anywhere the American side whined about the British being too rough. Instead, they understood a revolution meant risking their lives, their honor, and their sacred fortunes. Denied representation under an undemocratic system, they fought.

    The Founders took to the streets with none of the protections of the Bill of Rights. It was only after they won those early heroes created a Bill of Rights. It came as a package deal, because the Founders wanted to create a society where peaceful change was written into the law and so another bloody revolution was something their children would not have to undertake.

    That fundamental message was missed by the Democratic Party of Fairfax, Virginia. They tweeted (now deleted but the sentiment is widely shared) “Riots are an integral part of this country’s march towards progress.” No. Riots are not a vehicle for political change in a democracy. They are the antithesis of democratic change, change by force with no desire for compromise.

    It was only a week ago people said protests against government (specifically COVID restrictions) were wrong and dangerous, we should listen to the authorities, and were glad the cops were out there enforcing social distancing and masking. The people I saw at yesterday’s protest looked a lot like the people hissing at me in Whole Foods for not wearing a mask. They likely believe the 1A protects their protests but not those of the rednecks at the statehouse. To them every offense is a lynching, every day the apocalypse, every Tweet another final blow to democracy, every misunderstanding another example of systematic racism if not sexism, every non-white non-male non-straight American another victim.

    Once you understand how shallow and and tiresome and hypocritical such views are you will understand the 2016 election, and in about 150 very long days from now, the 2020 election. No heroes, or Russians for that matter, necessary.
      

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  • Unblock TV Box Reveals All About COVID, America, and Maybe Sweden

    June 10, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020


    So is this it? The last COVID column? Writing from New York I feel behind the curve (we’re still locked down) much as returning from Iraq and wanting to tell everyone what I saw only to learn most people had already changed the channel.
    We didn’t all die fighting over the last ventilator. Human colonies still exist in Georgia and Florida. Six Flags is gonna reopen soon. Joe Biden re-appeared in public (masked so he couldn’t hack up a new “gaffe,”) Trump is still president, the stores are full again with iJunk from China and despite any real imagined “Second Wave” (remember ISIS? The Yazidis? Kurd genocide?) it looks like most Americans are kind of done with this. We tend to binge watch now anyway, and the good part is over.
    Not for me. To pass the time inside while I wait for America’s governor to realize the COVID zombies on NYC streets are actually just our homeless emerging from the subways to molt, I’ve been watching TV news from around the world.
    I bought a Chinese-made streaming device of ambiguous intellectual property rights morality that delivers over 700 free TV stations from around the globe. I’ve made a little obsession watching COVID news from dozens of countries in English where I can find it, some in languages I know a little of, some in languages I can’t even identify. Grossly unscientific as well as probably a little illegal, but if you watch enough of it the patterns become very, very clear.
    No nation on earth tore itself apart over a virus response like the U.S. There was plenty of debate globally over the right thing is to do, but it all appeared intended to be productive and not politically-motivated destructive in nature. Not to say the U.S. media didn’t try to show the leadership they claim the world wants from us; while the BBC headlined new vaccine trials, CNN ran a report based on “sources” claiming the four countries which make up Great Britain are at odds with each other over how to respond. CNN even helpfully reminded Americans “Wales and Northern Ireland too often feel like an afterthought.” Indispensable nation FTW!
    In Italy, the news simply reported the Prime Minister announcing the sensical “We’re facing a calculated risk opening in the knowledge that the contagion curve may rise. We have to accept it otherwise we will never be able to start up again. Italy would end up with a strongly damaged economic and social structure if it waited to relax distancing measures until a vaccine becomes available.” The headline on what would have triggered calls for impeachment if not in the U.S. translated into something like “Relaxing social distancing is a calculated risk.”
    Perhaps most importantly of all, I found no other nation where a large number of people were convinced their leader was literally trying to kill them, to the point nightly news in America is still weeks later falsely reporting Trump wanted people to drink bleach. This is more than one item on this list. It is the core of America’s failure, the willingness to believe their government is not simply men who make mistakes, but men out to kill them. You can’t get past that, forgive it, correct it.
    No other media I found globally did what the NYT did on May 24, just ahead of Memorial Day, devote its front page to the names of COVID-dead Americans, the first front page in four decades to be just words, no photos or graphics. One has to go back to LBJ and the Vietnam War to find something similar — hey hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today? people chanted — holding the president himself directly responsibility for the deaths of individual Americans. LIFE magazine later devoted most of an issue to the photos of the men who died in Vietnam one week (which included Memorial Day 1969), a shocking sum of a failed policy. In 2020 the social/MSM toadies took the Times’ bait, and superimposed images of Trump golfing over the names. For readers who know history, the connection to Vietnam was undeniable. The direct responsibility link seems however more a creation of 2020 than the realization it was in 1969. The message’s intent was unambiguous: he killed them.
    I found no other nation where a large number of people were convinced their neighbors were also literally trying to kill them by not wearing masks, or any place where the decision to mask or unmask is seen so significantly as a political one. In Taiwan the government said people should wear masks, and then distributed them, and made extras easy to obtain. In other places cops hand masks to people who aren’t wearing one. Everyone in Japan just put them on. Americans weren’t sure where to find them and had to create their own masks via little handicraft projects, and then have to make heart-felt decisions multiple times a day under the judgement of strangers. Outside the U.S. a mask seems to just be a mask, whether you’re wearing one or not.
    People nearly everywhere they are able to criticize their government did so, and the debate in the UK and elsewhere over decisions was robust (they don’t all like their leader, either.) But nowhere except the U.S. was everything on TV so centered on blame, looking backward, rather than getting it right, look forward.
    No where else did armed protesters challenge their government. No place else where government decisions on which stores to allow open are so closely tied to broader over-arching national political themes. In no other place did anyone cry “give me nail salons or give me death.” I saw nowhere else where the response was so geographically different, where in one region bars were open and in another the police arrested people for not having a mask.
    America is the only place using the virus to justify less public transportation.
    With the possible exception of China responding to U.S. criticism, I cannot find any place that made the virus into a signature foreign policy issue, and feinted toward punitive actions to come. Borders got shut, then opened, as expedients, not as sneaky answers to unresolved immigration policy.
    No place else seems so determined to find new crises within the crisis — the virus yes, but in America we had a sub-crisis-of-the-week. Not enough tests, not enough doctors, not enough PPE, not enough ICU, not enough ventilators, no enough lockdown. And of course each sub-crises comes with its own sub-blame game.
    Not everywhere holds press conferences. Swedes tune in to the dry daily news conferences that pace like farm price reports. Of course the U.S. press have always been aggressive questioners, but I cannot find anywhere where open mockery and loaded passive-aggressive questions so dominate any discourse. This follows through to the “news” itself, so much of which is simply name calling, saying people are bonkers, stupid, mentally ill, incompetent, corrupt, and liars. This has uniquely spilled over into entertainment. It is very difficult to find anything produced in the last few years labeled in America as “comedy” that is not just name calling and mockery aimed at one side of the political spectrum. I cannot find anywhere outside these United States where media stars attack each other, where networks engage in ideological name calling, and claim each other distorts the facts to the point they are producing foreign propaganda, are anti-democratic, or are a literal threat to the nation. You get a little of that during Prime Minister’s question time on the BBC, but they are much more clever. Otherwise, you have to read the tabloids for it.
    No other nation has a cheerleading squad embedded in its media happy when a possible cure fails. Except when talking about America’s reaction, everywhere else hydroxychloroquine is just another medicine to be evaluated. Hope is rationed in America because it is a political weapon.
    I see nowhere else people wish fellow citizens get sick and die to prove a political point — You reopened too soon! You didn’t wear a mask! You voted Republican so die! Your third-party vote will kill grandma! I don’t see elsewhere the U.S.-standard told-you-so story, something with the headline “Barber Who Defied Lockdown to Cut Hair Tests Positive.”
    Racism is not unique to the United States but I cannot locate anywhere else where it is so embedded in the way the nation talked about or dealt with the virus, real stuff or imagined. Same for a search for “communities” hurt more than you by the virus: LGBT people, immigrants, Asians in general when just Chinese are not enough, special needs kids, a lip-reader who can’t understand masked people, prisoners, heroes who stock shelves, various “survivors” of other bad things, an endless search for more victimized victims. At the same time, no one seems driven to create and fetishize “heroes,” from cashiers to trash collectors. Same for countries with woman leaders; they don’t make a big deal of it but the American media sure does. The press from those women-led countries just talks about Leaders. They talk about competence in government not gender.
    No one else seemed so anxious to both undercount and overcount the virus deaths. A fair number of nations seem to want to underplay their death tolls, but nowhere is it both under and over at the same time.
    I don’t see anywhere else where whatever is on one’s political agenda (free college, debt forgiveness, public housing, social programs, guaranteed income, economic inequality, national service, freedom of religion, right to bear arms, abortion rights, the freaking post office and voting by mail) is being so directly tied to a virus response one way or another.
    So that’s it for COVID, a good couple of seasons’ worth. I’m still inside, though. Anybody heard anything good about this Netflix thing? I’m looking for something new to pass the time. Jeez, I gotta get out more.

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  • The Neverending Trump Story

    June 6, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Economy


     
    If you get to the end of this and think all it’s doing is defending Trump, you’ve missed the point.

    For the first time in months there is no front page COVID story. The replacement is the police killing in Minneapolis and chaos everywhere else. But the repurposing is familiar: blame Trump for the tragedy to defeat him in November.

    For months there were ran charts and tickers of COVID infections, deaths, missing ventilators, anything countable that made things look bad. When the stock market was hemorrhaging money those numbers were in red up front. Today, if it’s COVID info you seek, look for it where it started, before it was rebooted from Wuhan’s Virus to Trump’s Virus, back in the business section. Somebody else’s blood is going to have to rescue Biden.

     

    The precipitating news peg is the death of another black man at the hands of another white cop under another set of dubious circumstances. If 100,000 COVID deaths can’t shake your faith in Trump, maybe one more of these will. In the eyes of the media, it is of course all Trump’s fault. The problem with that is former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, now charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, previously shot one suspect, was involved in the fatal shooting of another, and received at least 17 complaints during his nearly two decades with the department.

    Nobody prosecuted him for any of that, including never-gonna-be-VP Amy Klobuchar, as a county prosecutor. Klobuchar also did not criminally charge other cops in the more than two dozen officer-involved fatalities during her time as prosecutor. She punted those decisions to a grand jury. Current Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who was a lawyer and state legislator when Klobuchar was prosecutor, defended Klobuchar’s record as “a practice that was common at the time.” That’s another way of saying systematic.

    One person Klobuchar systematically declined to prosecute was today’s villian Derek Chauvin. In 2006 he was one of six officers who shot Wayne Reyes after Reyes aimed a shotgun at police after stabbing two people. Small world. And that’s before anyone looks again at Biden’s own record on these things, from Cornpop on forward.

    See, this week happened before. George Bush had Rodney King. Under Bill Clinton it was Amadou Diallo shot 41 times, remembered in the Springsteen song American Skin (41 Shots). For George W. Bush, it was Sean Bell. Eric Garner was strangled by police during the Obama term, alongside the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

    Barack Obama said what happened last week in Minnesota “shouldn’t be normal in 2020 America” when in fact it has been normal for some time now, including under his watch. After the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in 2015, Obama called the protesters “criminals.” Oops. But the media has him covered now; Vox jumped in this round with “being a former president is different. Now that he is out of office, Obama is more free to try to lead the social change his candidacy once promised.” Change? Leadership? Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Eric Gardner’s killer. Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Michael Brown’s killer. So today there is still no justice, no peace. Blame Trump.

    If that Minnesota cop was a violent racist, he certainly didn’t take the red pill from Trump’s hand, not with two decades of personal complaints and two decades of signature national violence and two decades of prosecutorial somnolence behind him. Remind us again, who was the black Democratic president of the United States during most of that time? Who was his black Democratic attorney general? And someone is trying to use racism in 2020 to take down Trump?

    Wait, breaking news! Trump is threatening to kill Americans! In what the New York Times characterized as “an overtly violent ultimatum to protesters,” Trump tweeted the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” and threatened to deploy the National Guard to Minneapolis.

    Now of course the Times knows but didn’t let on to the rubes it knows that it is very, very close to impossible for the president to federalize the National Guard for domestic law enforcement (we slogged through the explanations two years ago in another faux-panic Trump was going to order the Guard to enforce immigration laws.) The Guard generally answers to its state governor, and in the case of Minnesota, Governor Walz already called for full mobilization. It was just a tweet, carrying the weight of a feather. So it’s fitting the punishment is a tagged violation of Twitter rules and not impeachment this time.

     

    The problem with COVID as the Trump Killer was the wrong people ended up dying, and not enough of them. Had the early predictions of millions of deaths sweeping across the nation had any truth in them, that would be hard to ignore. Had the early predictions of COVID zombies using their last strength to fight  over the remaining ventilators come to pass, that would have landed a knockout punch.

    COVID also killed the wrong people. One can imagine Democratic strategists shouting “Find me some white cheerleaders in Wisconsin who will never realize their dreams, dammit!” Instead, the dead were a majority poor and black, with about half of all COVID deaths in the U.S. in ravaged and neglected parts of the New York City area no one really cared much about before all this. You can see some of those areas on TV today, filled with protesters fighting cops. A few efforts at trying to tie COVID into a greater tapestry of economic inequality didn’t get very far; nobody had much concern for Amazon warehouse workers when they themselves were out of work and waiting on packages of Nutter Butters.

    COVID was fundamentally a crisis of economic inequality; the bodies in New York City are the proof. If it was a failure of leadership, then that failure must be traced back some 50 years, and has less to do with a lack of PPE in 2020 than it does with a lack of national healthcare and a living wage contact traced from Nixon to whoever the next guy turns out to be, because both candidates have promised to do nothing new enough to fix those things.

    It is sad and cruel and horrible to say no one cared in the end enough for the virus to beat Trump but that is what happened. Remember it in a few weeks when the news has forgotten George Floyd.

    The failure of Trump not failing as a leader during COVID, or with police violence, follows a long string of similar stuff, beginning even before his inauguration. For three years we were told the president was literally a Kremlin agent doing Putin’s business out of the Oval Office based on blackmail. Then there was something about the Ukraine that rose to the level of actual impeachment that is still hard to explain and seemed to implicate Biden as much as Trump. Trump will kill us all was a meme Democrats threw against the wall multiple times, with various North Korean and Iranian wars and of course the virus. And now, forget all that. It’s racism, stupid.

     

    Former cop Derek Chauvin didn’t wait for Trump to send out a tweet, or even take office, before becoming violent. He’d been at that for two decades. The systematic racism in Minnesota has roots deep into (d/D)emocratic governance, and wasn’t enabled by a few tweets. This is the same answer for the virus; the economic inequality which drove the virus in places like New York City has very little to do with Trump or his supposed lack of leadership, same as it had nothing to do with the made-up ventilator shortage. It is no surprise in 2020 two leading causes of death among the poor and black are police shooting and COVID.

    These things run deep within our society. How obvious does it need to be, it’s not Him, it is Us. The media trying to bundle the latest crisis up and slap a “Trump” label on it, like before with Russia, Ukraine, war, and COVID, will do little to hurt his election chances, and do much to make it clear everyone continues to look the other way. If it is just a Trump problem (or a he’s on Twitter problem), it lives and dies with Trump, whenever that is. That assures us following Biden or Trump this year, or Donald Duck in 2024, there will be another virus which reapers through the poor, and long before then another street killing in a place that should be as far away as Minnesota.

    If all we do is play politics with tragedy that’s all we’ll ever do toward resolving tragedy. Resolution lies in looking forward to seeking fundamental solutions over looking backward to assign blame. People in the comments below will claim this is defending Trump. That is as wrong as it is irrelevant. If anyone thinks more violence is the answer, or that this will elect Biden, or that his administration will change things, you’re missing the most important point: the revolution has been televised. You’ve watched it already, you just don’t realize which side won.

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  • Letter from New York

    June 1, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    New York City remains locked down while America seeks the bloom of spring.

    No wrinkles then around my eyes the first time I saw her, and she wasn’t just a bubble tea shop then. When people could roam the streets of New York City without harassment for failing to tie a talisman of a mask across their face, I used to walk regularly, often without specific purpose, past the old San Remo Cafe in Greenwich Village.

    In the 1950s and 60s the regulars included giants like James Agee, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, William S. Burroughs, Miles Davis, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock, William Styron, Dylan Thomas, Gore Vidal, and Judith Malina. Imagine the conversations, the dirty jokes, the warm beer.

    If you don’t recognize all the names, Google a couple. James Baldwin. A black, gay man, he wrote about victims without victimizing. Because he was a black gay man he understood the failings of humanity not just towards black gay men, but towards men. Modern writers in his genre always seem to start off their work with “AS a ____” demanding your sympathy on line one. Baldwin was better than that. He saw hope, not profit, in anger.

    Woody Guthrie played in the neighborhood around the San Remo and certainly must have stopped in, as did Bob Dylan.

     

    The cafe closed long ago. The property was most recently a bubble tea shop and its clientele about 99 percent Asian tourists who I do doubt ever read James Agee. Irony is a character in this story. Do history a favor and skip the abomination of the tea; just down Bleecker Street is Fiore’s Pizza, named after a New York firefighter killed on 9/11. It’s hard not to remember those sharp blue September days when we took care of each other, briefly, before we became so afraid. Heat can forge, or it can melt. Men who ran into a fire were NY’s heroes instead of people who, however necessary, stock shelves.

    Bob Dylan lived nearby on West 4th Street, having come to the neighborhood in large part because he wanted to meet Woody Guthrie. Neither man would be newly successful today. Both were in their primes imperfect men, perfect for #MeToo entrapment by those who have likely since graduated into masked tattletales (irony again; they hide themselves with facemasks while judging you.) The poets made you pay attention to the words because they wrote prayers, not songs. The words mattered because words once mattered as more than sounds that just rhymed well to a beat. Dylan wrote “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man” in this neighborhood about some NYC-type who often kept him awake at odd hours wandering around like we once could do. The sleepless Dylan never imagined what we see now when he wrote the lyric “the empty street’s too dead for dreaming.”

    The last war had been fought up the street, at the White Horse Tavern in the 1930s with the reds, and the place would make a comeback in the later gasps of the 1960s. At San Remo were the children of World War II too young to have experienced the bloodshed but damn aware of the price war took on their fathers, awake in the affluence of the 1950s and 60s alienated by the Cold War. Americans never really made peace with all that. It’s quite a neighborhood.

     

    The cafe can’t be there anymore, nor the Asian tourists, and neither can I because a good idea to implement social measures to slow the virus in line with our capacity to deal with it morphed into a fear driven shelter in place mania until we achieve zero-death plan. New York City has a dirty little secret it isn’t talking about. Arbitrary standards have been set for the whole of the place (available hospital beds to reopen the city must be 30 percent; it’s now at 29 percent. Number of hospitalizations misses the market by two-thirds of a person) , some eight million people. But there is little of the virus in Manhattan, including near the cafe. Most of the deaths are clustered in in the Bronx and distant Brooklyn, separated by class and money. The rich areas are held hostage in lockdown now to the poor areas. Yet to go out for milk now I have to look like Billy the Kid about to knock off the 10:15 train.

    I miss New York, the idea of New York, because the real place barely ever existed. The city always goes too far — too many handouts, too much poverty displaced by too much wealth, too much real art pushed aside by garbage, too much multi-generational public housing. Everybody knows the city always goes too far, and periodically it has to be culled back like weeds out of control.

    The 1970s and early 80s saw it turn into Beruit, with hard lines those stuck here learned to navigate. There is OK during the day, up there never, over near the park only if you had a good reason and some street smarts. The Bronx burned, the cops windshield wipered between giving up and turning vigilante. We did it again not too long later, with stop and frisk and broken window policing. Then back down to where a year ago or so the mayor ordered the police to stop arresting people of color for what he defined as minor crimes in the subway and then declared the subways safe (again) while minor crimes enmassed into just crime. Again. Each of those cuts through life here and the city walks around with the scars.

    The deal with New York was that you put up with stuff like that, grad school liberal poli-sci think pieces actually acted out (free methadone to replace cheap heroin, what could go wrong when a “clinic” replaces a grocery store in a neighborhood) in return for the old San Remo Cafe you could not get in South Bend or Allentown in return for putting up with what you did not have to navigate in South Bend or Allentown. The city is like a sunset, you don’t expect it to admire you back.

     

    Then it all went to hell in 2020. Those same political think pieces said they needed to put the city into a medically-induced economic coma to top the virus. The solution hit hardest on the poor. They need to become poorer to save them, that irony thing again.

    The public school system, which in another social experiment gone too far had been largely turned into a massive outbox for free meals, free daycare, free menstrual products, free birth control, and free medical care, just gave up education as a function completely and closed. The one single only solitary thing that has any chance of helping someone do better than their parents, education, was shut down. The city’s “public advocate” even wants penalties waived for skipping online school. So that’s OK. One imagines the immigrants on the Lower East Side a hundred years ago working extra hours on top of a 60 hour regular week to send one of their four kids to school to give the whole family a chance. Thanks, Grandpa.

    A good friend taught public high school in the deranged and ravaged South Bronx for several years under “Teach for America,” another grad school project which theorized anybody in front of a classroom was basically better than nobody, and hoped if you rolled the dice enough and stuck enough privileged kids in front of enough poor kids something decent might come of it. My friend eventually quit, realizing how much time he spent in his classroom on things not related to teaching science. His conclusion — you can’t fix the schools in the South Bronx until you fix the South Bronx — isn’t anyone’s current project. One imagines the minimum wage Amazon frontline worker thinking about the flyover honoring him about the same way he thought about people thanking him for his service after Afghanistan.

    Somehow Bill Gates is now deeply involved. What does he know, but he means well and he is a rich tech prince, about what in New York passes today as civic virtue. It reminds me of my nation-building days in Iraq, when any dumb idea could find a sponsor only the people in NY care even less about the results.

    New York is generally content with the system it has, a bizarre mashup of pseudo-socialism inside the greatest concentration of capitalism ever known enforced by near-fascist decree to enact the social experiments while the cops keep the rich and poor safely apart. Extreme forms of mitigation can have diminishing returns, but only in real life. The virus saw New York in the name of a liberal experiment to save New York from the virus shut down the jobs and the schools. Projections are more comfortable. Charter schools, no grades, more computers, more African history and art, free college for all, lockdowns, quarantines, masks, let’s try it. A virus will crush an already broken society faster and more efficiently than a working one. What’s happening now is a culmination not an event.

     

    We are most certainly not all in this together. Across the rest of the city, people are here without being here, with the richest areas about 40 percent empty. They have other homes to retreat to, suburban panic rooms from which to see how long this time it will take NYC to surface again. You can track their flight by the drop off in garbage collected in certain neighborhoods. Less people, less trash. The real rich toughing it out with the proles have private speakeasies to ease the pain.

    One thing the rich will be watching is where this time the economic (and thus safety) fault lines will settle in. On my side of town, the bad streets had receded above 96th. They’re working their way back to 93rd now. Google up real estate values and statistics for burglaries of old people and street assaults and you’ll know. The rich abandoned the public school system long ago. They also had the comfort of closing their public schools earlier to protect themselves from the early days of the virus (their schools being used primarily for education not as charity distribution centers; a mega-irony was that the schools still being part of the last social experiment meant they had to stay open longer until alternate food distribution could be worked out) and will exercise the option of reopening their private schools sooner, as the virus statistically is far away from them.

    Heat can forge, or it can melt. New York’s mayor is a goofball, a knucklehead, a jaboni who imagines himself a Caucasian blend of Cesar Chavez, Obama, and Dr. King. He wanted to be president even. Nobody really likes him, but the people who vote (by mail, from their second homes) generally endorse his policies even as they wish for someone a bit more elegant. They like the idea of feeling good, and so love the idea of a handful of “lower income” apartments mandated into billion dollar residencial towers. They tolerate a population of several thousand human trolls living homeless in the subway system because it adds “grit” to their city while they take Uber. Quaint shops and bars needed for Instagram are kept alive via GoFundMe and tax breaks, not customers. They mandated a city without public toilets, customers only!, and then seem surprised everything smells like urine. Can’t they eat cake? They act like they discovered the vaccine against irony long ago.

     

    Of course no one talks much about how the good ideas never seem to improve the lives of those they are aimed at. Despite the lockdown, plenty of people keep getting sick and dying in New York. The South Bronx is still poor. Despite the economic coma NYC still has a higher death toll per million in population than any other state in America. New York City also has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country yet we tolerate the death toll which persists. Most of those who die by gunfire are in the same category as the virus deaths, poor and of color and from another part of town walled off by street signs as plain and easy to understand as that wall across the Mexican border.

    The virus takes its victims, but much more of the harm is self-inflicted. It will take researchers years to sort out where the Venn diagram circles overlap among social distancing, natural processes like herd immunity, and just plain exaggeration, but it is clear today the virus is not the most dangerous thing here anymore. This is a dismal city to be in today, ravaged by a virus of bad ideas and self-delusional political experiments that laid in wait for a trigger event, COVID for now, to land some body blows. New York is a place now that misses its younger, happier self. Hard to imagine the poets at the old San Remo Cafe like I am now, wishing away a lovely spring and summer to hurry it up until November.

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  • Requiem for the U.S. Department of State, Part II of II

    May 26, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, NSA

    The Department of State has been adrift for the past handful of administrations, an agency without agency, personnel, or budget, in search of a mission. It is the essential agency which does nothing that matters anymore. As seen in Part I of this article, a number of secretaries of state, from the politically royal to the politically disabled, have failed to impact diplomacy. How did this all happen?

    Traditional diplomacy began as a necessary expedient. Nations had business with one another, but messages could take weeks to travel from one capital to another. Instead, ambassadors were sent out, empowered in the case of the U.S. as the President’s personal representative to speak in his name with the full force of the United States. Heady stuff. Messages back to Washington would report final results, such Ben Franklin letting the boys at home know he’d knocked out a treaty with France against Great Britain so we might win the Revolution after all. Hundreds of year later communications improved to the point where world leaders can now text each other, but those ambassadors and embassies remain as if Ben was still out there.

    Leaders came and went. For every Abraham Lincoln there were a lot of Millard Fillmore’s and Taylor’s (John and Zach) who mattered little. With exceptions along the way (FDR stand outs), presidents did not conduct first-name diplomacy or tie themselves up with the details of foreign affairs. They had secretaries of state for that. Everything shifted under Richard Nixon, whose interest in first-person diplomacy with China and reluctant ownership of the Vietnam War sent the State Department into a supporting role.

    The change began under Nixon. Events both internal and external to the U.S., its State Department, and the world, did the rest.

     

    A Rubik’s Cube, Not a Chessboard

    The world has changed even as the State Department is still largely configured for the early 20th century. State’s primary organizational unit is the nation-state, and so it divides itself into the “China Desk” or the “Argentina Desk.” Inside that unit, it is assumed the host country has a government that works more or less like ours, with a Foreign Ministry, some rational system of sending policies up to the leader, in most cases some sort of press, that kind of thing. So inside the country desk State organizes fiefdoms along subunits of Political, Economic, Press, and Trade. New diplomats arrive in foreign capitals to go off in search of their one-to-one counterparts. Everyone at Foggy Bottom assumes the basic framework applies from Albania to Zimbabwe. Over the years State has created regional divisions (East Asia) and topical divisions (Science and Tech) but overlaid these across the geographic divisions so that ideas skitter sideways and up and down simultaneously. The result is usually paralysis when it is not confusion. The problem is not determining who is in charge per se, but that 10-12 people all think they are in charge.

    The days of seeing the world as a chessboard are over. It’s now closer to a Rubik’s Cube that Washington can’t figure out how to manipulate. In many cases no one in State can get to the policy task itself, busy as they are arguing over who has the lead on some issue. In most cases senior decision makers elsewhere in Washington leave State to its internal fussing and seek guidance elsewhere — CIA, NSC, the Pentagon.

    No one outside of official Washington can appreciate how much 9/11 altered the way the U.S. Government thinks about itself. The shock changed the posture of the government from one of at times satisfied with passivity in its more distant foreign affairs to one demanding constant action. Presidents from that day forward would probably have preferred each Federal worker go out and strangle a terrorist personally, but if that was not possible everyone was to find a way to go to war. State never really has.

    Things change slowly if at all. State has no tanks or battleships, just people as its primary way of getting things done. In 1950 State had 7,710 foreign service officers. Pre-9/11 they had 7,158. Today it’s still only about 8,000.

     

    Growing Sophistication of Foreign Actors

    The traditional image of the older gentleman from the embassy meeting with the local king is for the movies. Foreign actors have gotten much more sophisticated in their ability to demand VIPs to fly in to finalize deals, and in playing local staff off against the real decision makers scattered throughout Washington. Those foreign actors understand today State is less than a one-stop portal into the USG and more of just one player to manipulate alongside others.

    In almost every nation, smaller bureaucracies allow easier bundling/unbundling of issues, something which befuddles State — Country X says if you want that naval base you have to cut American tariffs on cinnamon imports. State throws up its hands, paralyzed, knowing their real diplomacy will involve the Pentagon and whoever the hell does spice tariffs in what, Treasury? Commerce? Senator Johnson’s office, whose district controls most cinnamon packaging? The other side is scheming clever demands while State organizes Zoom calls. The joke inside the Department is deals abroad fail on diplomatic efforts inside the Beltway.

    Similarly, in most places abroad the U.S. has three centers of representation who vie for the authority of the United States, and are played off one another by smart foreigners. The Department of Defense maintains relationships with foreign militaries. The intelligence community does the same with host country spies and cops. State tries with everyone left over. Depending on the country, the civilians State interfaces with may matter little in a power structure dominated by say the army, or the local version of the CIA. That renders the American ambassador second place on his own team, never mind in the eyes of the locals. That ambassador may not even know what his own country’s military or spies are up to, leading to naughty surprises and the loss of credibility as a hollow figurehead.

     

    Militarization

    Negotiating in Iraq with a minor tribal leader for safe passage, he asked me as the State Department representative how many goats I was offering. About five seconds into my response on the need for lasting friendships, an U.S. Army major cut me off saying “I can get goats” and I no longer mattered to the negotiation, the war, maybe the 21st century itself.

    It is all about resources. The military has more people, more hardware, and more cash. From Great Britain to some valley in Garbagestan the military can offer new friends shiny tools (Section 1206 funding: for the first time since President Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, President George W. Bush allowed that the U.S. military would fund many weapons transfers directly from its own accounts, bypassing the State Department. Conspicuously absent from the debate over Section 1206 was Condoleezza Rice, America’s then Secretary of State.) State meanwhile needs a couple of days to arrange transportation to the meeting.

    Stephen Glain’s State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire is a sober biography of the Department since World War II. The choice of word — biography — is significant, in that traces the decline in old age of State as America’s foreign policy is increasingly made and carried out by the Pentagon. In particular Glain understands the military is organized for the new world order.

    “The yawning asymmetry is fueled by more than budgets and resources (though the Pentagon-State spending ration is 12:1), however. Unlike ambassadors, whose responsibility is confined to a single country or city-state, the writ of a combatant commander is hemispheric in scope. His authority covers some of the world’s most strategic resources and waterways and he has some of the most talented people in the federal government working for him. While his civilian counterpart is mired in such parochial concerns as bilateral trade disputes and visa matters, a combatant commander’s horizon is unlimited. ‘When we spoke, we had more clout,’ according to Anthony Zinni. ‘There’s a mismatch in our stature. Ambassadors don’t have regional perspectives. You see the interdependence and interaction in the region when you have regional responsibility. If you’re in a given country, you don’t see beyond its borders because that is not your mission.’”

    Adding to the problem is about a third of State’s ambassadors are political appointees, amateurs selected mostly because they raised big campaign bucks for the president. The United States is the only first world nation that allots ambassador jobs as political patronage.

     

    Self-Destruction

    State’s once-valued competitive advantage was its from-the-ground reporting. Even there the intelligence community has eaten State’s sandwiches with the crusts cut off — why hear what some FSO thinks the Prime Minister will do when the NSA can provide the White House with real time audio of him explaining it in bed to his mistress? The uber revelation from the 2010 Wikileaks dump of documents was most of State’s reporting is of little practical value. State struggled through the Manning trial to show actual harm was done by the disclosures. Some 10 years later there hasn’t even been a good book written from them.

    Under the Trump administration the State Department has seemingly sought out opportunities to sideline itself, now and in the future. Even before the 2016 election results were in, diplomats leaked a dissent memo calling for more U.S. intervention in Syria, a move opposed by Trump. Soon after Rex Tillerson took office, his diplomats leaked another memo very close to insubordination opposing the State Department’s role in Trump’s immigration plans. In yet another dissent memo, Foggy Bottom’s denizens claimed their boss violated a child soldier law. FYI: Nothing substantive came of any of those leaks/memos.

    Everyone in the current White House knows how many scandals of the last few years have criss-crossed the State Department: slow-walking the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails (after helping hide the existence of her private server for years), turning a blind eye to Clinton’s nepotism hiring her campaign aides as State employees (remember Huma?), the Foundation shenanigans, the crazy sorrow of Benghazi remembered, the Steele Dossier and many things Russiagate and Ukraine. Most of the impeachment witnesses were from the State Department, including one who claimed to surreptitiously listen in on phone calls with his political appointee ambassador to tell all later to Congress. That’s an awful lot of partisanship woven into an organization which is supposed to be about being non-partisan.

    Nobody trusts a snitch, Democrat or Republican. What White House staffer of any party will interact openly with his tattletale diplomats, knowing they are saving his texts and listening in on his calls, waiting? Hey, in your high school, did anyone want to have the kids who lived to be hall monitors and teacher’s pet as their lunch buddies?

     

    America’s Concierge Abroad

    What’s left is what we have, the State Department transitioned to America’s concierge abroad. It’s relevancy to top-tier foreign policy is questionable, and its work now mostly logistical. Embassies are great bases for intel work, military offices, the occasional evacuation, to grind out some visas, and for ceremonial events. Someone has to be out there to arrange VIP visits and tidy up local issues. For me, while stationed in the UK, I escorted so many Mrs. Important Somebody’s on semi-official shopping trips I was snarkily labeled “Ambassador to Harrod’s Department Store” by my colleagues. In Japan I found out my duties included re-authorizing radio certificates for American seamen under an early 20th century treaty.

    One of The Blob’s greatest accomplishments has been to convince a large number of Americans everything pre-Trump was normal and everything since is extraordinary. That sets up the idea that extraordinary means are needed to deal with unique threats, and that sets up throwing away the rules because ends justify the means. Meh. The work known as diplomacy otherwise continues in some sort, albeit done by people outside the Department of State. Future presidents will need to change that, or, if history serves, live comfortably with it.

     

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  • Requiem for the U.S. Department of State, Part I of II

    May 20, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Afghanistan, Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Military, Syria, Trump


     
    Saying “Mike Pompeo” out loud feels odd, like mouthing the name of an old girlfriend, or shouting out your GMail password. It just feels wrong in your mouth, because what’s Mike or the State Department done lately? As the Trump administration wraps up its first term focused on domestic issues, it occurs the United States has passed almost four years without a foreign policy, and without the need for a Secretary of State or a department of diplomats behind him.
     
    On his first anniversary in the job Pompeo told assembled diplomats “We needed everyone in their place, working on the mission, if we were going to achieve this mission on behalf of the president” but never actually said what that mission was. A Google query shows “Searches related to Mike Pompeo Achievements” include “mike pompeo weight – mike pompeo net worth.” One can easily imagine Pompeo, even pre-COVID, slipping out the side door at Foggy Bottom shouting “I’ll be working from home, check with my deputy if anything comes up” while his wife is waiting in the car for him, Ferris Bueller-style.

    We had high hopes for Mike. He and John Bolton (as National Security Advisor) were the Bad Boys who were supposed to start wars with Iran and North Korea, outdo Cheney and even challenge the legend himself, Henry “Bloody Hands” Kissinger. Pompeo watched as not much happened between the U.S. and North Korea. He watched as the ending of the Iran nuclear treaty caused not much to happen. John Bolton, who liberals expected to see on a throne in Tehran rolling a mullah’s bloody head around his lap, instead sits by the phone hoping a think tank will offer him an intern to listen to his stories, or maybe Dancing with the Stars will ring needing a last-minute. That show on Fox?

    Prior to Pompeo, the Secretary of State was Rex Tillerson. Tillerson couldn’t even come up with an elevator speech of his accomplishments when asked, listing as he left office North Korean sanctions which achieved nothing, alongside his own mea culpas for failing to make progress in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, where with a straight face he noted there was “more to be done.” A bit hard to blame him, as Trump chose a policy of stasis, not wanting to withdraw the last trooper and forever be the man who lost Afghanistan. Imagine if the U.S. had followed similar political caution and still garrisoned Vietnam?

    Commentators wrote Tillerson would be remembered as the worst secretary of state in history. Wrong. He made no significant blunders, gave away nothing. He just didn’t do much at all. His actual only real accomplishment was a humiliating apology tour of Africa meeting with leaders on the periphery of U.S. foreign affairs grouchy over the president calling their nations sh*tholes.

     

    It would be easy to blame Trump, his open mic night style of making decisions, his decrees by Twitter, sucking all of the diplomatic air out of the room and suffocating up-and-coming diplomats like Mike and Rex before they even had a chance to try on their plumed hats. Unlike his predecessors, Trump never took advantage of his get-one-free foreign incursion along the lines of invading Grenada, occupying Lebanon, or an adventure in Somalia, never mind the big ticket items like Iraq Wars I-III. Sure, Trump did bomb Syria (who hasn’t?) and nipped at Iran, but the tumescence was over before the media could even declare the end of the world again.

    One can imagine meetings with friendly foreign nations in the Age of Trump: “Anything new from your side? No, you? Nah, something on Twitter from POTUS about armageddon, misspelled. Say, Crimea still giving you trouble? A little, whatever, you watching Tiger King? Pretty funny. Quite.”

     

    So turn the page backwards to John Kerry, Obama’s second term Secretary of State. Kerry imagined himself a Kennedy-esque man of action, Flashman at the ready, and had the State Department keep an online tally of how many miles he had traveled doing diplomatic stuff. The Nation called him “One of the Most Significant Secretaries of State in the Last 50 Years,” heady company when you realize the list includes Acheson, Dulles, Rusk, and Kissinger.

    OK, but… Kerry’s signature accomplishment, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, faded quickly. As negotiated the thing was only for ten years anyway, and would be about half over even if Trump had not walked away. And that’s giving Kerry full marks for getting an agreement where the National Security Council did much of the heavy lifting, and one which the Iranians wanted badly enough to help their economy they were willing to trade away a lot of Wonka tickets. Kerry’s work with the TPP and Paris Agreement also showed good effort. We’ll put them up on the fridge next to the one song Ringo got onto each Beatles album. Kerry’s muscular efforts came to little substance (albeit through little fault of his own) but the legacy business is harsh.

    After that, you have John Kerry helping muck up Syria. Kerry floundering in the Ukraine and Crimea. Kerry failing to move the ball forward in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Palestine, or blunting China as it assumed a pivotal role in Asia in every way except militarily (they’re working on it.)

    That Nation article praising Kerry also cites as achievements “the military retaking of Mosul, the sponsorship of an Oceans Conference, the strengthening of the Gulf Cooperation Council…” all of which mean what in 2020? Kerry did sing Happy Birthday to Vladimir Putin at the APEC conference in the midst of a U.S. government shutdown. Kerry’s most significant achievement was leaving many Democratic voters secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush beat Kerry to take on a dismal second term.

     

    But Hillary! Never mind “one of,” Google chair Eric Schmidt called her “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson” (suck it, Kerry.) Secretary of State was only the first half of the prize Hillary got for clearing the way for Obama in 2008 (Barack shooing Joe Biden aside for her in 2016 was the second) and Clinton made the most of it. For herself. Ignoring America’s real foreign policy needs (or was she being ignored?) she turned the State Department into an arm of her Foundation, projecting “soft power” on things like women’s issues and AIDS to match her eventual platform, all the while generating B-roll for the campaign like a chunky Angelina Jolie. She also had the Department obsessively document her constant travels, with formal photos of Secretary Clinton alongside world leaders as well as selfies of Hil letting her hair down among her own diplomats. “Texts from Hillary” predated Instagram. Not a pair of dry panties to be found over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    But in the tally of history, Hillary Clinton accomplished… not much. Time Magazine listed her key accomplishments as “the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran.” In a summary piece, USA Today singled out “Clinton convinced Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guang Cheng,” who returned the favor by joining an American think tank opposing abortion and gay marriage.

    From the horse’s mouth, quoting Hillary Herself, key accomplishments were “hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.” Not resume items as momentous as forever changing the Cold War balance of power by opening China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Meanwhile, the world owes Hillary for her significant contributions to the failed state of Libya and the subsequent refugee flow, the human misery of Syria, the missed chances of the Arab Spring, and failing to end other wars she helped start or voted for.

    A generation before Hillary we have Colin Powell and Condi Rice, whose only accomplishments as Secretary were to march America into the desert and abandon her there (Colin) and march the State Department into the desert with the guaranteed-to-fail mission to create democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and abandon her there (Condi.)

     

    The good news is the U.S. is experiencing a peace of a sorts not by sweating out the sins of diplomacy, but just by not going around the world throwing matches into buckets of gasoline. Trump has made little use of his Secretaries of State and their Department. No recent president made much use of those diplomats either, so they are unlikely to be missed.

    The next Secretary, whether working for Trump or Biden, will find themself in charge of a Cabinet agency is search of a mission. They may very well end up somewhere between the traditional ceremonial role of the Vice President, attending conferences and funerals, or perhaps simply overseeing a network of embassies to serve as America’s concierge abroad, arranging official visits for fact-finding Members of Congress, and hosting senior Washington policy makers in town to do the heavy lifting of international relations.

    If the U.S. government had to downsize into a smaller capital, the State Department would likely end up on the curb, alongside those boxes of the kids’ elementary school drawings. Cute, sentimental, good times, but why did we keep them all these years?

    How did this happen? In Part II of this article, we’ll look at the factors internal to State and the United States, and those external, global changes, that left the Department adrift.

      

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  • I Can’t Do It Again: Hypocrisy, Tara Reade, and Joe Biden

    May 10, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy

     

    Tara Reade says Joe Biden once grabbed her privates and demanded sex. Will it change the election in November?
     
    The Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings were a turning point, where the presumption of innocence was thrown out in favor of a new standard, “credible accusation.” Evidence was replaced by #BelieveAllWomen. Fierce justice then, but now it’s Biden’s turn. Imagine the same type of proceedings directed at him. Amy Klobuchar repeats her accusations Kavanaugh, er, Biden, is a drunk, with just about as little evidence now as then. Senator Dick Durbin demands Biden demand an FBI investigation into himself on live TV. Durbin fires at Biden as he did to Kavanaugh if he has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear, a line often attributed to Joseph Goebbels. Kamala Harris goes in as bad cop, righteously shouting down whatever is said to her by Biden. The truth? You can’t handle the truth.

    After that show, imagine a second one where Elizabeth Warren, long-shot Biden VP pick Florida Representative Val Demings, Kirsten Gillibrand, Stacey Abrams, and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer all show up to stand by Biden, not believe Reade, say Reade deserves to be heard before she is dismissed, and/or remain silent when asked. That TV show will be shorter.

    To flesh things out maybe on that short TV show women voters could call in to ask those women Democratic leaders how the very serious business of #MeToo got turned into just another political tool by the “party of women.” Alyssa Milano, famous for the #MeToo meme and whose take on the Kavanaugh hearings was she believed all women without the need for due process, could be brought out to explain how now “the notion that this should be disqualifying to Biden in a race against Trump is patently ridiculous. Anybody who claims otherwise is using sexual assault as a political football.”
     
    Well, yes, that is the point. Dems made sexual assault a political football. Problem is now they find themselves on defense for the first time (having ignored successfully Bill Clinton’s hands-on approach.) One article does what I just don’t have the breathe to bother with, pull up exact quotes of what was said about Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser then and compare it to what is being said about Biden and his now. It unveils the total hypocrisy of the #MeToo positions, and how self-righteous Dems are when these techniques were used by them, versus used against them. Watching people force themselves to support Biden under these conditions is what I imagine the Beach Boys look like backstage trying to mix up Viagra and meth so they can get through “Surfin’ USA” one more time.

    Meanwhile, more and more women are realizing Democratic hypocrisy is setting back women’s rights, making it clear women’s concerns are useful and valid only as political weapons, victims only of use to tee up a media storm. The impact on the election will be…

     

    Sorry. I just can’t do it again. It’s the same thing. Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t the false narrative plain? But isn’t it likely very few people care, again? The pattern is beyond the obvious, the addition of new player Joe Biden the only change. I can’t get away from it. People just believe what they want to agree with.

    I even started a story on Politico’s fully debunked claim Trump was beholden to the Bank of China because of some loan. That one fell apart faster then I could type it up. Too many believe when the Democrats and MSM tell us these things. They are all wrong. Why is anyone believing them now? I am tired of being lied to. I am tired of being manipulated in the most obvious ways. After Kavanaugh, the Democrats simply announcing “Biden didn’t do it, nothing to see here, folks” is beyond insulting. I am weary of talking people off the ledge, even more weary of living among people who are convinced they are going to die freedomless in the dark from a new cause each day. I am tired of this:
     
    Trump didn’t win the election.
    The Emoluments Clause will stop Trump from being inaugurated.
    The economy will descend into a depression after he was inaugurated.
    There is a pee tape.
    Trump is a Russian spy, an asset, Putin’s puppet.
    Michael Cohen met with the Russians in Prague.
    (Mohammed Atta met with the Iraqis in Prague.)
    Trump sold out the U.S. to build a hotel in Moscow.
    Trump wants to buy Greenland to build a hotel.
    Trump left the Saudis off the No Fly Muslim list because he had a hotel there.
    Trump will start a war with Iran over moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
    Trump will start a war with Iran over the nuclear treaty.
    Trump will start a war with Iran to distract from COVID.
    The Kurds will all die in a genocide.
    We have to take out Assad (and earlier, Saddam, and Qaddafi,) or there will be a genocide.
    Trump’s trade war with China will bankrupt us.
    Trump will start a nuclear war with North Korea.
    Trump’s peace overtures with North Korea are dangerous.
    Kim Jong Un is dead.
    Trump will invade Venezuela.
    Trump will withdraw from NATO.
    (Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.)
    James Comey will change everything.
    Robert Mueller will change everything.
    SDNY will change everything.
    Michael Avenatti will run for president.
    Papadopoulos, Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, will flip and bring down Trump.
    Beto, Cory Booker, Mayor Pete, Kamala, AOC, Stacey Abrams are the new Obama.
    Diversity is the key to Democratic victory in 2020.
    The rule of law ended in America.
    Democracy died in America.
    It’s Weimar.
    It’s the fall of Rome.
    Impeachment will end Trump’s time in office.
    The 25th Amendment will end Trump’s time in office.
    The Whistleblower will end Trump’s time in office.
    Marie Yovanovitch will end Trump’s time in office with her testimony.
    John Bolton will end Trump’s time in office with his book.
    Ronan Farrow will end trump’s time in office with his book.
    The Parkland Kids will change everything.
    The Covington Kids are racists.
    Two million Americans will die of corona.
    Blocking visitors from China is racist and ineffectual.
    There are not enough ventilators.
    There is not enough PPE.
    There are not enough ICU beds.
    The Chinese supply chain will stop and no more iPhones.
    Trump is going to defund the Post Office to block mail-in ballots so he can steal the election.
    Trump is going to fire Mueller, Barr, Rosenstein, Mattis, Jared, Ivanka, Pence, Bolton, Fauci.
    Trump avoids the press and hasn’t held a briefing in a year, bring him out.
    Networks should not air Trump’s open mic night briefings.
    People will die if my neighbor doesn’t wear a paper mask but lukewarm delivery food is safe.
    People in NYC will die if Starbucks opens but it’s OK for the subway to run.
    The stock market’s historic rise doesn’t matter for Trump’s reelection because most Americans don’t own stock.
    The stock market’s historic decline will destroy Trump’s reelection chances.
    If we end the lockdown too soon everyone is going to die.
     
    Those who fetishize Trump’s lies want to stand on their record above without irony. Lies are truth, what is really true doesn’t matter if people (can be made to) believe it because truth is moral only when it supports the correct side. Hypocrisy just mens choosing the lesser of two evils. Maybe that’s the best we deserve in a world where “do your research” means Google something and accept the first headline you agree with.

    Accountability takes a seat to agenda. The end justifies the means over and over but never leads to good. “Oh, it’s OK, he beats me less than my previous spouse.” Trump’s hidden taxes are bad but Biden’s hidden Senate papers on Tara Reade are acceptable. Ivanka and China? Hold my Tsingtao beer, says Hunter. “You think I’ve got dementia? You should see the other guy!” Never mind Biden mare-nuzzling women’s hair on numerous occasions. Then there’s Anita Hill. Did being Obama’s VP baptize away those sins?

    Same thing in the end, just purposed toward what are sold as radically different ends, Gray Man instead of Orange Man. Choose Joe, he harasses women, gets health draft deferments, plagiarized in law school, cheats on his taxes, is corrupt with his kids’ money, but less. It doesn’t matter what happened to Tara Reade, anymore than it matters what happened with Russia. It wouldn’t matter if Biden sexually harassed someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. As one editorial summarized, “He’s not perfect, but he’s not Donald Trump.”

    I once wrote in reference to the lies we told ourselves about success in the Iraq War if “b.s. was water we’d all have drowned.” Now it appears Democrats and the MSM have not only learned to adjust to a new environment like some prehistoric amphibian but are politically wallowing in it, at least prior to choking come November.

     
     

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  • Time to Get Back to Work

    May 8, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy


     
    If America has a fast forward button on it someone should push it ahead to November. We won’t be done with the virus until we’ve done with the election. Between prudence and overreaction lies politics.

    We bleat about wanting decisions based on science. Then we do the same dumb red-blue thing, even counting the corona dead differently (nothing left certain but taxes now) to make the numbers seem better or worse depending on the shifty politics of better or worse. Something that should not be about Trump at all is All About Trump.

    There is no other country in the world so driven by politics so devoid of science. It’s killing us. Other countries have good leaders, some not so good. But look at us. Our nation is held hostage to protests and counter-protests, lockdowns and open bowling alleys. There is no other nation where so many are convinced their leader is actively trying to kill them with his virus response, even imagining he wants them to drink bleach.

     

    The MSM portrays protesters against government restrictions as dangerous, Trump death cultists who’d rather end up in an ICU that skip a haircut. It is an echo of the things that lost 2016 for the Democrats. The people don’t want haircuts. Such flippancy insults the righteous anger over lost livelihoods. They want to feed their families. They want thought-out targeted restrictions instead of politically driven over-reaction and fear mongering. It’s about deep emotional waters, sense of self, a whole lot more than just how the economy will help Trump win or lose. Many also are concerned that their lives, including the right to assemble, to worship, and to protest, are being controlled by leaders they don’t trust while a media they abandoned years ago mocks them. Beaches open in a red state are #FloridaMorons; in a blue state it’s #SurfsUp.

    But they see this time the Brooklyn elites are going a step further, beyond the deplorable label, to wishing them to catch the virus, figuring the infection will teach them a lesson before they vote wrong again. Wishing death on people you disagree with. It’s almost like cheering for a guy who drives his car into a crowd of BLM protesters.

     

    Elsewhere, medical professionals say the protestors have no right to put others’ lives at risk, and think it is just more than OK to physically stop the rallies. That’s called “the heckler’s veto” by the Supreme Court and is not allowed under the 1A, even if you’re a hero ER nurse or just an abortion protester blocking the door to a clinic. Stopping someone from protesting by shouting them down, driving a car into their crowd, or otherwise trying to stop them from exercising their rights (including the right to hold a dumb opinion or one you disagree with) is disdainfully unconstitutional.

    The medical professionals and their Muppet chorus of journalists sound like some soldiers who felt their sacrifice was made cheap by people who protested the war. Thank you for your service. It does not however allow you to choose which people can exercise their rights. When you choose to serve you serve those you define as worthy and those you don’t. It’s bigger than you, doc.

    Government is not supposed to be able to take away freedoms, even if it’s for “our own good.” Governments always invoke safety and security when they are taking away rights (see the Patriot Act.) The invoke the majority over the minority. It’s an old playbook, joined in this century by our 1A nannies on social media, who electronically block efforts to organize. If you’re screeching about how rights don’t matter when lives are at stake, the same old safety vs. liberty argument people always use, you’ve got company. The KKK used that argument to block blacks from marching, claiming it was a safety issue.

    Protesting against the government taking away your right to assemble is about as fundamental a civil right as you can get. The argument restrictions are needed to keep us safe (“we’ll get the virus!”) are about as fundamentally wrong as you can get. Yet authorities in California will no longer issue permits for anti-lockdown protests at any state properties, including the Capitol.

    Agree? Just remember what you’re saying now about these redneck inbreeding gun nuts the next time someone claims a march permit can’t be issued in the interest of public safety to a group you support. Hint: It’s the same thing. Rights are rights. Because you know what else can spread rapidly if “left unchecked?” Tyranny. Justice Louis Brandeis held free speech is not an abstract virtue but a key element of a democratic society. He ruled even speech likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” In braver times when Americans challenged the safety vs. liberty argument, the Supreme Court consistently ruled in favor of free speech, reminding us democracy comes with risk. But that was another world ago, before we measured human worth in RTs.

     

    There is science which should be informing decisions. The irony is that while claiming a small rally in Denver will cost lives, or Florida will kill people by opening its beaches, the same voices remain silent as NYC keeps its subway running 24/7. The timing of the public beach versus public transportation debate came as a new study detailed NYC’s “multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator — if not the principal transmission vehicle — of coronavirus infection,” “seeding” the virus throughout the city. Without a superspreader like the subway it can be contained locally. It is tragic when the virus rips through a nursing home or meatpacking plant (it is a virus after all, it will go viral), but all of those together barely touch a week’s body count in New York. Shut down mass transport.

    We can put most people back to work with limited risk; the protesters are right. The virus kills a very specific patient. About half the dead are over age 65. Less than one percent of deaths were under age 44. Almost 94 percent of the dead in any age group had serious underlying medical issues (about half had hypertension and/or were obese, a third had lung problems.) The death toll in NYC under total lockdown: 22,000. Death toll in much more densely populated Tokyo with “smart” lockdown: 93.

    About 22 percent of New Yorkers already have the virus antibody and thus expected immunity. A logical conclusion — large numbers already have or had the virus, and that it is harmless to them — is simply ignored. Quarantine/social distancing is for those most vulnerable so we can stop wrecking all of society with cruder measures. Hospitals should separate patients by age. No need to keep kids from school, especially if that means isolating them inside a multigenerational household. Let them wear soggy paper masks to class, even tin foil on their heads, if it makes things easier. Online classes are lame and America doesn’t need a new generation dumber than the current one.

    The New York-New Jersey area, with roughly half the dead for the entire nation, practices full-on social distancing while Georgia was one of the last states to implement a weaker stay-at-home policy. Yet as Georgia re-opens, the NY/NJ death count is over 27,000. Georgia is 892. NY continues adding around 500 bodies to the pile every day, even with its bowling alleys closed.

    We judge risk versus gain for every other cause of death. We wear condoms. We watch our diets. Time to do the same for the virus. As for lockdowns, we may not even be judging them accurately. Some 22 states have had fewer than 100 deaths. Only 15 states had total deaths for the entire duration of the crisis higher than NYC’s current 500 a day. The original goal of lockdowns, to buy time for the health care system (and most resources were never needed due to over-estimates of the viral impact), has passed. If the new goal is Virus Zero it will never come. If the real goal is harm Trump we’ll have to put up with this without serious discussion until November.

    A Stanford doctor nails it: “Strictly protect the known vulnerable, self-isolate the mildly sick and open most workplaces with some prudent large-group precautions. This would allow the essential socializing to generate immunity among those with minimal risk of serious consequence, while saving lives, preventing overcrowding of hospitals, and limiting the enormous harms compounded by continued total isolation.”

    We are fretting and frittering away our national muscle watching TV about a bigamous tiger keeper. There are too many who want this isolation to continue indefinitely, a pathetic nation whose primary industries for its young people are camming and GoFundMe. We focus on the virus deaths, but the Reaper keeps a more accurate tally: deaths from despair, from hunger (two million new people became food insecure in NYC since the virus), financial losses (26 million Americans have filed for unemployment), mental health issues, and abuse (domestic murders during the viral months in NYC  outstripped the total from 2019.) In some ultimate irony, parents are postponing vaccinations for fear of bringing their kids to medical facilities.

    It is the reaction to the pandemic that exhausts us, not the pandemic itself. So when someone claims it is Money vs. Life they miss the answer: It’s both. It should not be taboo to discuss this. The debate needs to be about human life in full.

     
     

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  • Fear and the Virus: We’re All Momo Now

    May 2, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Economy, Other Ideas, Trump


     
    The COVID-19 virus turned us into a nation of Momo’s.
     

    Momo is my old rescue dog. She has BB-like pellets embedded under her skin. She jumps at noises and shivers uncontrollably when I pull my belt from my pants at night. She didn’t have to tell me that story but she did. She invents new fears all the time; like out of nowhere today it was a spray can rattle, last week it was the the coffee machine beep. Momo never gets back to normal.

    I don’t think most dogs are self-aware enough for suicide, but Momo might be. Before we got the right kind of leash she would slip off and dart into traffic. There were some close calls. For a dog afraid of everything she has no fear of being run over, so you tell me, because one definition of suicide seems to fit: fearing the consequences of living above those of dying.

    Momo knows there are bears in the woods. But her fears have gotten the better of her and she can’t separate real dangers from the rustle of leaves in the wind. Soon enough the grass near the woods has gotten too close and before you know it better to just stay on the couch, alongside the rest of America.
     
    We have been practicing to be Momo. With 9/11 we took one terrible day and turned it into a terrible decade. There were real threats, we all saw the Twin Towers fall. But that was… it? We faced a collection of bumbling terrorists with underwear bombs that didn’t work and shoe bombs that didn’t work and dirty bombs that never existed, plus of course the handful of successful homegrowns closer to disgruntled and mentally ill than Islamic and jihadi. If things to be afraid of didn’t exist we’d be forced to invent them. That might help explain how fast all that terror stuff just kinda faded away when it wasn’t needed anymore. ISIS who?

    But before that we convinced ourselves of threats abroad that needed lashing out at (Momo has never snapped at anyone. It’s a flaw in this analogy.) That is handy, the lashing out justified by fear, because it means we don’t have any obligation toward self-examination for killing millions of civilians, torturing people to madness, upending nation after nation, yadda yadda. We were scared, you guys! Sure, maybe we’re a little embarrassed for jumping under the table mid-Iraq War when Mom dropped the plate in the kitchen but nobody is going to tell the U.S. of A. it wasn’t justified at the time.

    We entered the Age of Trump in the worst of circumstances. Not only were we Momo-ized by 15 years of color-coded smoking guns being a mushroom cloud (and kudos to the author of that Bush-era catch phrase for the retro invocation of the Cold War) but we had honed social media to allow Momo’s across the country to encourage each others’ fears – “Hey, you guys afraid of the smell of pencils? I’ll just leave that here.”

    We reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin. Throw in Americans’ seeming need to be the victim, a nation of special needs people who all have to board first. If you live every day certain you’ll die if they serve one gluten it is easy to get spooked about something actually real. And don’t forget how over-protected we want to be, wiping down the gym like prepping for surgery and reading trigger warnings and dressing like cosplayers with ineffectual soggy cloth masks — this fetish of imagined fears doesn’t stop reality as much as it leaves us poorly prepared to deal with it.

    Then we get this Trump guy as a Bond-level super villain who was going to end democracy, make us speak Soviet, send the economy into a tailspin, trigger wars with China, Iran, and North Korea when he wasn’t trying to make peace with them which was somehow just as dangerous. Anyone who wasn’t a Nazi was a Russian ‘bot. Clearly a guy like this is to blame for not stopping cold a global pandemic at our shores. Social media allowed us to micro-personalize fear. Trump was going to end my rights (LGBT, abortion, something about toilets, guns, religion, concentration camps, fill-in-the-blank based on what is hiding under your bed.) We could have signature fears.

    You can actually watch it happen in real time. Over on Twitter people noticed Trump retweeted something about liberating Michigan, and using their online law degrees, determined that was the commission of an actual crime of “inciting violence.” A dozen others then tattled to Twitternannyman @jack saying Trump should be banned to save us all. That brought out the historians who decided Trump was trying to start a civil war, which was the trigger for the Constitutional experts to demand the 25th Amendment be used to remove Trump from office that afternoon before the war began. From a retweet to the apocalypse in under three minutes. UPDATE: Nothing happened. All the fears were pointless.
     
    But anyway Nothing Would Ever Be the Same Again and that was just for mostly made up stuff. Now we have enough of a real thing. Will we recruit Rosie the Riveter to beat the Nazis? No, we’ll just quarantine until our skin will become translucent for lack of sunlight. The face of this is Karen telling someone self-righteously they need to wear a yellow HAZMAT suit to Safeway or they’ll have her kid’s blood on their hands. People always find a new way to fear not enough — not enough tests, not enough ventilators, not enough beds, not enough food, whatever’s next. It doesn’t matter the fatal shortages did not materialize yet. The virus could mutate! There’s a second wave coming! Best to stay tense, dog, you will never get back to normal.

    C’mon, just between us, forget about Trump for a minute. Does a virus falling well behind super killers like car crashes and cancer really really really demand upending literally everything in our life? Shutting down schools? Throwing 22 million people out of work? Stopping down our most basic rights? And if anyone says yes, explain why we didn’t do it for past pandemics like H1N1. Imagine George W. Bush deciding post-9/11 no one could go to work or school for “national security reasons,” that we could not protect all those locations from the terrorists or something. It seems silly in retrospect but we’re doing it today. We’re so afraid we no longer can distinguish between prudence and over-reaction. It just seems easier to stay at home than to see if the woods really have bears in them.

    We are somewhat lucky. The most powerful people in our nation just want money. Jeff Bezos has no inherent desire to harm us directly. We still have some value to him, as temporary workers until the robots come and of course to order things. A mild uptick in the market saw Jeff’s net worth leap $24 billion dollars in one day. Fear is currency, and profiting off the pandemic the new status symbol.

    Politically, more luck. The next president has limited ambitions. Trump seems content thinking he’s in charge and busting chops, and Joe Biden’s ambition is to um, something. They’re not the kind of people who would really run with this fear thing. They seem content with the status quo of fear, enough to make people compliant, but not so much that they end up chasing each other with pitchforks. But imagine a bad boy in charge like Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon or John Brennan, a strong man to protect us, an evil man who understands the power of fear.
     
    I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a number of different countries. They have problems, sometimes serious ones similar to ours. But they don’t seem to have Momo-ized, where they can no longer tell the real dangers from the shadows, or judge the right amount of caution from the panic that shuts down the point of living.

    Maybe this is because less is uncertain for them. Most have health care, social nets, pensions, day care, stuff like that. Their people start the day worrying less in general than most Americans. Maybe that has something to do with this. For now, it’s hard to feel excited living in a nation of paranoid agoraphobics passing their remaining time slathered in Purell scolding their neighbor for forgetting his mask when out walking Momo. It’s not a healthy way to live.

      

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  • Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

    April 18, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Economy, Post-Constitution America


     

    The talk in New York is about when to return to normal. But that misses the point; normal never really left, it just changed clothes. We traded economic disparity expressed through poverty for economic disparity expressed through viral death. The real problem isn’t when we’ll return to normal, it is that we will.
     

    All the energy that made this city more than livable, made it desirable, is gone. It’s just a big, empty place now, all the seams showing. The closed stores still have St Patrick’s Day decorations. Time stopped in March. I am a native New Yorker by birth, seven years now returned. I don’t know how many times we can all stand on the ledge and not jump. From 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Super Storm Sandy. This feels more like the gray of post-war East Germany than the white hot panic of late WWII Berlin.

    New York state has more corona cases than any other country in the world. About half of all U.S. deaths are here in the broader New York area. Sure, there are other hot pockets but while NYC counts the bodies in the thousands there are some states still in single figures and most others in the hundreds. The stars may soon again hold benefit concerts for us, echoing post-9/11’s “ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” When the city talks in its sleep what many remember most is the kindness people showed toward one another that blue September, little courtesies of holding doors and allowing someone to cut the line, half smiles from total strangers in a place where such vulnerability could previously have made you prey.

    Not with the virus. We snap at each other, enemies now, each a potential carrier. This is a not a city which lends itself to personal space without a flash of aggressive eye contact. Walk without a mask and someone will snap at you. Two guys hissing something in Spanish at an Asian woman. Lines to enter the food store with everyone watching like North Korean border guards for sneaks. SNL and late night never mocked Bush in the immediate 9/11 aftermath. If we ever were one we are not now. Because we are for certain not all in this together as Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “Everyone is subject to this virus. I don’t care how smart, how rich, how powerful you think you are.”

    That is not true. The virus is highly concentrated in the poorest Hispanic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx. The viral death rate for Hispanics is 22 people per 100,000; for blacks 20 per 100,000 while the rate for whites is 10 per 100,000. For whites even that is deceptive, given the hot spots in the isolated Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn versus the paucity lack of white deaths in the high-income areas. Poorer people are more likely to die at home than in a hospital, and so the surge in at-home deaths, most never tested, suggests the death rate for the virus is being under-counted. Overall the virus is twice as deadly for Hispanics and blacks than whites in NYC.

    In New York we speak hundreds of languages but not to each other. A map of viral cases neighborhood-by-neighborhood tells the tale. America’s most diverse city, America’s most sanctimonious city about that, is also one of her most segregated on the ground.

    New York City is also the most economically unequal city in the country. It is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. Living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis. The number of New Yorkers who live below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia or Phoenix, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. The billionaires fund the social services and the poor clean the homes and scavenge the trash of the billionaires.
     

    The reasons are the same reasons. Poor neighborhoods are served by the city’s miserable public hospitals, not its world-class private ones. A virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. The problem is the quality, not the quantity, of healthcare. “We are watching, in real time, racial disparities and the pandemic of poverty,” one assemblyman said.

    Poor people suffer from comorbidities (86 percent of the dead have one), particularly the ones of bad diets like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Hypertension is 3x more prevalent, and diabetes 5x more, in the South Bronx than in well-to-do lower Manhattan. Influenza, which has already killed about twice as many people this season as COVID-19, follows a similar pattern.

    The Elmhurst neighborhood in Queens is “the epicenter within the epicenter,” according to the mayor. Some 64 percent of its residents are Hispanic, and the median household income is three-quarters of that of the metro area. Nearly 11 percent of households there are multigenerational. The grouping of young (who carry the virus without symptoms) and elderly together helps drive the higher infection rates.

    Park Slope, Brooklyn, has some of the city’s lowest rates of COVID-19, 56 percent below average. Two-thirds of its population is white and the median household income is one and a half times greater than average. Less than two percent of households are multigenerational. But when the Surgeon General specifically admonished people of color to stop drinking and using drugs during the pandemic to power up their immune systems he was called a racist.
     

    This is the normal. The economic disparity driving the viral load in NYC was here long before the virus; COVID-19 was superimposed on that sordid base. What is happening now, the deaths, was always happening, albeit slower. This mocks what pundits are calling the big question, how to balance the city’s health and the city’s economic needs, when to re-open for business. Economic inequality has been killing people all along, and keeping poor people from working by decree only makes them poorer and eventually sicker. It is a slow death as opposed to the quick countable deaths from the virus.. Tom Hanks will thank the food delivery guys for their service on SNL but we still won’t pay them a living wage.

    One of the things blamed in NYC was the late decision to close the public schools. Many wealthy private schools closed on their own in early March. The mayor kept the massive public school system open until the middle of the month not for educational reasons, but because it doubles as a social service center for poor children, including 114,000 who are homeless.

    More than half of all public students get their meals at school, and for the homeless kids it is the only place they can wash clothing and clean themselves. Birth control and STD testing for kids from strict Hispanic Catholic homes mostly happens surreptitiously through the schools. The schools provide daycare so poor people can work, and are the last hope to keep a few children out of gangs and offer them a break from abusive homes. “Given the alternatives, schools are a safer place for many kids,” one teacher said. Closing the schools was a “last resort,” judged a better option than hiding from the virus at one point. The uptick in child violence and domestic violence in general New York is experiencing now was understood to be coming, collateral damage.

    The city made up its mind a long time ago. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed 30,000 New Yorkers, the Health Commissioner demanded public schools be kept open, believing the risks of gathering kids together were outweighed by the benefits of giving them a break from their crowded and unsanitary tenement apartments. The Commissioner also noted working immigrant parents had no time to care for their kids, better to have them looked after at schools. As he put it, sick people don’t go to the theater when they feel bad but they do go to work.

    Same for the subway system, still running 24/7, a remarkably effective way to spread the virus. As in 1918, poor people can’t work remotely. NYC kept the public schools open, and keeps public transport running, then and now, knowing it would spread the virus, because the alternative hardships seem worse.
     

    I’ve lived in the developing world and you get used to this. You have and they don’t, way it is, beyond one man’s blame and seemingly any man’s fix. The biggest barrier to some sort of “re-opening” in NYC is to figure out how to express that in palatable terms for 2020. Not that we weren’t already already doing it for the last hundred years, but now we need to make rules to govern our apartheid of dollars that sound OK in the Sunday Review section. The rest is just logistics.

     

    BONUS

    New York is not alone. In Chicago, more than 70 percent of the deaths related to the coronavirus were among black residents, though blacks make up only a third of the city’s population. In Michigan, black residents make up just 14 percent of the population, but over 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths.

    It was always sort of this way, but maybe a slightly better version of it. Up until the 1970s or so, New York had always been about The Deal. You put up with the filth, the crowding, the lack of empathy, and she’ll throw you a bone. If you really make it, the luxuries of the world are available at your fingertips. In the middle, for the plumbers and the clerks, a spring afternoon at the stadium with a hot dog and a beer (or nowadays more commonly, a churro) reached at heaven. For the immigrants, from the 19th century Irish, Germans, Jews, and Italians to today’s Dominicans and Vietnamese, work until you’re running, burned, and near blind, and we’ll educate your kids so they don’t have to.

    We did away with The Deal when we switched to more disposable workers. A janitor I know tells the tale. His father came to New York from Puerto Rico a few Americas ago. Dad worked nights until he bought a house in Queens. Miguel’s brother is out of work with a high fever, but the real worry is dad, diabetic and elderly and living downstairs. Miguel cleans for rich people and “can’t get sick” because he’s now holding the family purse. He’s angry his kids have to “online school,” because he wants them to make the move, third generation, up and out, and online isn’t going to be enough.

     

     

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  • The Virus Comes for the Bernie Campaign

    April 15, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy


     


    RIP the Bernie Campaign. We’re left with Joe Biden, and that means the real race is now between Trump and the Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the panic and political opportunism surrounding it.)

     

    What will be missed in the post-Bernie analysis is the key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017, the Democratic Party and their media lickspittles telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. That strategy eliminated Bernie because whatever Bernie was, he was not a hero. He said it himself many times – “this is about a movement, it was never about one man.” The rest of them, the Beto’s and Pete’s and Kamala’s, were props, K-Pop media creations to satisfy a desire for diversity the media itself had mostly created.

    Twitter isn’t real life, and an important rule of the con is never believe your own bullsh*t. The Dems will ignore this and hope like hell some VP choice will negate all of Biden being Biden without realizing they never should have picked Biden.

    If Bernie ever had a chance in 2020 (and that is very unclear, his moment was in 2016 though the Democratic establishment ignored the yearning he represented because it was Her Turn, the big pay off for sticking with Bill, the second half of the pay off for standing aside for Barack) to move his ideas out of his Facebook friends’ circle into the mainstream. The Virus drove a dying progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. New ideas are scary enough in good times. Nobody wants to reform capitalism or talk about reparations in the middle of the war for survival the MSM told us we were in. AOC who?

    And now Joe Biden stands alone. Usually being the last man standing at the end of a fight means you won. But Biden is a black hole for enthusiasm, a dishrag (can you name one signature Biden proposal?) , a stand-in a candidate who through no fault or promise of his own will be the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.)

    With Trump big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    There’s the major problem of by choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

     

    This is now a one-issue race, the Virus. After more than three years of trying the Democrats (absent Bernie perhaps) have put few ideas forward. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump, while the public remains unmoved as they have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

    Long before anyone votes the Virus is going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we long did with Russiagate) “but just wait!” blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000, many still unused) should embarrass him as only a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Trump scores a win, or he says “the media never gave me a chance but we tried while they just whined it won’t work.”

    The end result is many people will return to sanity and understand, again, disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media preternaturally assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill everyone after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role.

     

    After Russiagate, impeachment, and the imploded primaries, the Virus is the Dems’ last swing at Trump. There won’t be time for another round. It will be a tough sell come November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when all they have to offer is a mistelling of events nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling passed off as journalism. Fauci, Cuomox2, the Hero Docs and Nurses, and whatever still-to-come good guys the media will have created so they don’t have to credit Trump with any success won’t be on the ballot. All the faux controversy, like the impeachment hearings, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America.

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into New York and New Jersey, the other scraping past most of the country. More than half of all cases and deaths nationally are in the New York City area.

    Even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is instead highly concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods; a Virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if the pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and not largely even a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation. Other hot pockets will flash, but the draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if things stay steady.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all this in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will also help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.

    Looking back to Vietnam, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see desperate liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day. Imagine a July 4 Trump rally, him congratulating the crowd for having beaten back the Virus as they shout USA! USA!

     

    The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus, with Joe Biden as a slightly interested bystander.

     

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  • It’s Trump vs. The Virus in November

    April 14, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

     

    There’s a new variant on an old joke. Trump and Biden are in the woods and see a bear racing toward them. Trump starts to run. Biden says “You can’t outrun a bear!” Trump replies “I only have to outrun you.” The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Approval ratings only measure how fast one guy runs, and miss that’s it is a two-man race. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus to see who the virus, er, bear gets.

     

    The Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the political panic and opportunism surrounding it) drove the progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. No more Parkland Kids, no more Pink Pussy Hats, Beto who? Mayor Pete who? Got a Plan for That who? Articles in HuffPo about how the publishing industry is especially unfair to left handed LGBT disabled Muslim people with eczema seem like Olde English. AOC is an artifact reduced to demanding free stuff from the government not from her ravaged district in the Bronx, but broadcasting from her DC luxe condo. When Bernie finally quits he’ll be lucky to make the “And in other news today…” part of the broadcast.

    Biden is a dishrag, through no fault or promise of his own the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.) By choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system kinda sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden ten years ago and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

    With Trump dominating the media, big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    The key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017 has been the Dems telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. They have put few ideas forward on the road to making this a one issue election. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump does, while the public remains unmoved as they generally have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, Emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, trade crisis that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, ending of abortion rights that never happened, ending of LGBT rights that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork to include appropriating an additional $25 million in salaries and expenses for the Dem-controlled House. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

     

    Long before anyone votes this is all going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we did with Russiagate) the “but just wait” game of blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat that Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000) should embarrass him; a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then the masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill us all after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role. George W. Bush was reelected despite Katrina.

    So it will be a tough sell in November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when they mostly have to offer a mistelling of Trump calling the virus a hoax nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response over those nine months will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling the media passes off as journalism. Cuomo, Fauci, Birx, Cuomox2, and whatever still-to-come good guys and bad guys the media will have created won’t be on the ballot. Might as well recycle those pleas for Michael Avenatti to run for president.

    All the faux controversy as the media tries desperately to create gossip (Are Trump and Fauci fighting?), what did or did not happen “fast enough” in January, like the impeachment hearings that took place alongside that, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America. At what point might the numbers matter? For comparison, here are causes of death in America (2019) not being blamed on Trump as corona reaches 12k: cancer 606k, car accidents 39k, regular flu 34k, and in 2009 due to H1N1, 12k. Some states still have corona deaths in single digits. Now imagine Trump thanking and congratulating all those spared for their sacrifices and efforts at successful social distancing. USA! USA! We did it, together!

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into the New York-New Jersey area, and the other scraping past most of the country. Some half of the cases and deaths for all of the United States are in the New York City area. Hot pockets exist across the nation but there are only relative handfuls of cases in many states. The draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if that stays steady. This could be a NYCish problem, like Super Storm Sandy, devastating but isolated. By September rock stars may be again holding benefit concerts for The People of New York. Think Springsteen revising The Rising (“Come on up for the nurses, come on up wash your hands with mine.”)

    The thing is that even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, scrapping what one writer called post-9/11 “the ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” Because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is highly concentrated in the poorest ethnic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx, along with mini hot spots in Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn. NYC is fighting like hell to hide the demographic data, but studies suggest a Virus patient in the Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and largely not only just a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all that in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.
     
    Looking back to the Vietnam era, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now in April, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day.

      

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  • The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue

    April 11, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America, Trump


     

    “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own…”
     

    That’s the closing narration to a classic Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. A summer’s day turns darkly paranoid as a group of neighbors convinces themselves strange doings are part of an alien invasion. Worse yet, one family among them may be aliens in disguise. Their fears escalate until a neighbor is shot and the former friends descend into a mob. The episode ends on a nearby hilltop where real aliens are watching the riot on Maple Street while manipulating the neighborhood’s electricity to encourage the violence. They comment on how simply fiddling with consistency leads people to descend into paranoia, and that this can be exploited to conquer Earth. The message is clear: while there is a real threat, the worst damage is done by ourselves, driven by the search for someone to blame.
     

     
    And oh yes in 2020, in what the NYT calls this “land of denial and death,” we search for someone to blame. Paranoia does not require much grounding in real life. So while a global pandemic unfolds, affecting over 150 countries, the blame for what is happening rests with one man. China, Spain, Canada, wherever, have no Trump. They don’t have America’s grossly commercialized medical system, or the economic inequality, or the the presence/lack of border controls, to exacerbate the virus. Yet they have the virus, statistically flexible enough to be worse than the U.S. where needed (China and Iran, they lie) or better than the U.S. to prove some point (South Korea tests more, Denmark has socialized medicine.)

    The Boston Globe has it clear: Donald Trump “Has Blood On His Hands” over coronavirus. The idea that a global pandemic is not “anyone’s” fault is unthinkable and Trump is a ready foil. The MSM has spent three years seeding our thoughts Trump is deadly. He was a Russian spy selling our secrets even as the #Resistance lead by Alec Baldwin practiced shouting “Wolverines!” He brought us to the brink of civil war, or nuclear war with North Korea, Iran, and China, enroute to climate change death. So what if the MSM got the details wrong — it wasn’t Russiagate or white nationalism or Ukraine — it was, we found it, this.
     
    Look, Trump did away with the “Pandemic Response Team” in 2018. If we had had that Team they would have swatted the virus away. Except there was no Team. What was fired was one man, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who was actually only a bureaucratic coordinator on the NSC. Ziemer was originally a George Bush anti-malaria appointee after his naval aviation career, an evangelical Christian, with little real-world experience with a pandemic. Not a doctor, not a specialist. No matter his team and its duties were reassigned inside the NSC to a new biodefense directorate. And no matter Ziemer still works for the government, at USAID, in case anyone needs his expertise. And no matter he and his position did not exist in 2009, when by most MSM accounts the U.S. successfully handled the swine flu virus.
     
    Well, maybe it is because Trump cut funding to the CDC and NIH! Except that did not happen. The president’s budget proposals called for reducing funding even as Congress said no every time. Joe Biden claimed Trump “tried to defund the NIH” even as lawmakers enacted increases. Not that it matters much, but Trump never called the virus a hoax, though he did call Democratic efforts to tar him with inaction a hoax. And a Johns Hopkins study in 2019 ranked the U.S.  the best-prepared country in the world to handle a pandemic.
     
    But Trump didn’t test! Of course testing has ramped up quickly to the point where the U.S. has tested more people than other countries and is leading the world in deploying the new, faster, antibody test. But blame requires focus on an initial couple of weeks, mid-impeachment proceedings, when testing was not available in large quantities. One typical headline claimed, “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as soon as the stories were written. Within a week, nearly a million tests would be available. The initial testing rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs was unsuccessful because it contained a faulty reagent. CDC quickly backed away from a policy position limiting full testing to its own labs for statistical and quality control purposes, and commercial, university, and state labs gained approval to use their own tests.
     
    The CDC’s actions were standard procedure, and for good reason. When a new disease emerges CDC normally gets the ball rolling because it has the expertise and the biosafety laboratories to handle dangerous novel pathogens. Typically there are few confirmed viral samples at the outset, which researchers need to validate their tests, and CDC has the capability to grow the virus for this critical quality assurance step. You lose that if you allow everyone to test simultaneously. It’s not a “blame,” it is science.

    As for the technical problem with the original CDC kits, here it is: “The key problem with the kits is what’s known as a negative control. CDC’s test uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to find tiny amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in, say, a nose swab. To make sure a test is working properly, kits also include DNA unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. The assay should not react to this negative control, but the CDC reagents did at many, but not all, state labs. The labs where the negative control failed were not allowed to use the test; they have to continue to send their samples to Atlanta.” The CDC has been supplying reagents through the same place for a decade. So if you want to blame Trump for stirring in the wrong DNA in the kits, whatever, go ahead.
     
    Oh, you want someone to really blame? Well, there’s two pandemics’ worth of it to go around.

    But what about the ventilators? The U.S. tried to build a new fleet of ventilators, but the mission failed, leaving us in the present situation. Left out of the discussion was that the failure took place under the Obama administration, following the H1N1 pandemic. It was understood then some 70,000 ventilators should be stockpiled. Yet through a failure of oversight by the Obama administration the project ultimately produced zero ventilators. Last year the Trump administration approved a new design to kickstart the project, with deliveries to start in the summer.

    But didn’t we once have more ventilators? Yes, in California, but Governor Jerry Brown sold them. In 2006, citing the threat of avian flu, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the state invest $200 million in a powerful set of medical weapons. He created a truck-borne system of some 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators, and 21,000 patient beds. Then in 2011 the new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, cut off the money to maintain the stockpile. The ventilators were given to local hospitals and health agencies without any funding to maintain them. Many were resold to dealers who shipped them abroad. The N95 respirators were allowed to expire without being replaced.
     
    New York, once again Ground Zero for a national tragedy, may not have enough ventilators. After learning in 2015 the state’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo could have chosen to buy more ventilators. Instead, he asked his health commissioner to draft rules for rationing the ventilators they already had.

    Governor Cuomo also recognized, but failed to do anything about, a shortage of masks and other protective gear. On March 6, weeks before Trump raised the issue, Cuomo stated people were stealing the equipment out of hospitals in New York. “Not just people taking a couple or three, I mean just actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. “I’ve asked the state police to do an investigation, look at places that are selling masks, medical equipment, protective wear.” There is no evidence he or the police ever followed up, directly resulting in a shortage today. Cuomo did not restate his order to investigate even after a warehouse with pallets of black market masks was reported.

    Despite the crisis, Cuomo continues to pursue $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts to NY’s hospitals alongside limiting their expansion to save more money. That will end up being a lot of ICU beds missing if needed.

    Elsewhere in New York, city mayor Bill De Blasio’s decision to keep public school open through mid-March, well into the pandemic, is seeing its gruesome legacy play out in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, where multi-generational households are among the hardest visited by death.
     
    What about Congress? Public health experts testified on in 2018 and 2019 asking for over a billion additional dollars as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, explaining programs created after 9/11 to ready the nation’s health system for any kind of disaster had since been stripped down to dangerously low levels. Congress cut the funding. That decision is “among several key moments over the last few years where experts warned of the likelihood of something like current pandemic and government leaders did not do enough to prepare.”

    The point is not to absolve Trump. The point is not to blame others. There exists among too many an ugly need for things to fail, so we can blame someone. That glee cruel because the desire for a scapegoat coincides with much suffering.
     
    You never defeat a disaster, whether a hurricane in Puerto Rico or a virus. You mitigate it. Success is measured by how well those natural processes are pushed back beyond civilization’s walls and by how much suffering is relieved along the way. The process almost always follows the same path: recognize the disaster (easier with earthquakes, harder with a virus), determine what is needed (time consuming and ever-evolving with the goal being the right help to the right places in order of priority), procure and transport (can take time), and allow the mitigation efforts to go to work. Disaster management specialists know it will never be fast enough, as the response starts in deficit. But a tipping point will take place, and people will start to receive the help they need.
     
    The press conferences, clogged with ritual passive aggressiveness, grow wearisome, do not inform and entertain only in the way slowing down at a car wreck does. It’s not Weimar, it’s not Rome, but it is time to grow up; we’re all on the Diamond Princess now. We’ll have an election soon enough, and the people can decide for themselves what the MSM and Democrats have been trying to force on them for more than three years. Until then, focus on fixing the problems for our neighbors, not the blame.
     
     

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  • What We Lost in the Pandemic

    April 4, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Post-Constitution America


     
    A lot of change has taken place in a very short period of time in America, almost all of it undebated and unchallenged, in response to what still has a long way to go to justify it. But the virus is killing us all! Stop. It is not only possible to hold two ideas in mind at once, it is vital. The virus is a threat. At the same time we are immersed in making fundamental changes to society willy-nilly that will outlive the virus.
     
    Only two weeks ago I had an hourly-paid part-time job, my hours subject to my boss’ needs and whims. That made me a lot like the 60 percent of the American workforce who are also hourly employees, not to mention those working as independent contractors, adjuncts, and the massive undocumented labor behind our farms, hotels, and restaurants. The government ordered most of us to stop working and we did. Nobody is entirely sure if “the government” can actually just do this, but it did. Almost none of us can work from home. We wait like baby birds for the government to drop checks into our mouths. Overnight we went from workers, albeit workers at the failing edge of economic inequality, to dependent on government handouts. As the balance of power between Americans and their government changes dramatically, 60 percent of us approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

    Perhaps the clearest example of what just happened took place among teachers. Teachers from K-College worked frantically on their own time to eliminate the need for classrooms and move instruction online. Something that might have been rejected as unacceptable six months ago, or expected to take years under normal circumstances, was done at no new cost overnight. No consultants, no arguments from parents or unions, just worker bees radically transforming the American educational system. It won’t take long after this is done for institutions to realize they don’t need so many teachers, classrooms, janitors, etc. anymore. The infrastructure now assembled can be used so one teacher can instruct hundreds or thousands of kids. Why have ten math professors to teach ten sections in ten rooms when one person online can more or less do it? So teachers, thank you for your efforts to iron out the bugs in a mass proof-of-concept experiment. Don’t worry in the future when you’re out of work; there are always alternatives in the free market system. A porn site is offering the unemployed big bucks as cam girls during the pandemic.

    A live classroom teacher (doctor, therapist, consultant, etc.) may someday become yet another luxury available only to a select few. Quality will be what you can afford. That is part of what corona is doing, helping people adjust to a new standard. Remember once most white collar jobs came with a private office with a door, a dedicated secretary, and a formal lunch hour, never mind a pension. Manufacturing jobs paid a living wage, with union benefits and a picnic each summer to honor the American worker. Stuff happens, ya’ know?

     

    For the second time in about only a decade, we are seeing our homes endangered. Rent payments are hard. As mortgage payments slip the banks are sniffing around like hyenas. Some people will fail on rent payments on the same homes they used to own. Occupy Wall Street? No, occupied by Wall Street.

    Like good boys and girls a lot of us did invest our money after the 2008 economic crisis, yet anyone contemplating retirement or college in the near term just saw 20 percent of all that go away. Again. The bailouts are here, in the trillions, again, for the airlines and other businesses. Of course the stock market will go back up, it always does. What occurs in the space between it going down and going back up is the wealthiest Americans, having money in reserve, buy cheaply once-expensive stocks you were forced to sell at the bottom to feed your family. In a few years you’ll start buying in again, you know, when you get back to work, to push up prices and fuel the rich folks’ gains. The wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-2008 financial crisis growth while the bottom 80 percent, whose wealth was in their homes not stocks, became poorer as their missing homes did not “grow.” Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The last recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century.

    What about 2020? Since over half of all Americans now own no stock, the wealth in 2020 will be sucked out of the so-called 10 percent, the remains of what was once the upper middle class. They are the only ones who actually have money for the hyper-wealthy to take. The bottom 90 percent are basically too poor to steal from (except our labor; see above.) A month ago the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the total value of the market. The One Percent are in the process of taking from the Nine Percent below them right now. Fair enough in a way; much of the Nine Percent’s wealth was harvested out of the 2008 crisis.

     

    At least in 2008 it was just our money they took. I sit here in NYC under a multi-layered federal, state, and city state of emergency. I am still sort of free to go out, but since most stores, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, etc. are closed by fiat, freedom of movement is an illusion, like prisoners circling the rec yard. Adding to the people who now tell me what I can and cannot do, the manager of my local grocery has made up his own rationing rules, choosing which products and which quantities he allows us to purchase.

    Freedom of assembly is gone. No more questions about whether Milo can speak on campus. No more Pink Pussy Hat marches. A month ago if anyone said that to a BLM group, the riot would have been followed by a Supreme Court First Amendment case. In 2020 only three people nationwide have legally challenged anti-assembly orders. Before the virus we made fun of George W. Bush, who in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 seemed to downplay the severity of it all by telling Americans to go shopping, to visit Disney World. That seems generous to a population now cowing in their bedrooms. We are being conditioned to reject the comfort and solidarity of being in the presence of others; one media outlet explains to little JoJo’s and Yorki’s how to report large gatherings to the authorities via an online form.

     

    Politically the progressive movement disappeared with the proverbial whisper, not a bang. Is Bernie still in? All that talk about a brokered convention, third party stuff, whatever, it is gone. Frightened people (they were scared about Bernie’s ideas long before the virus but the end came quick once the virus arrived) want to pull the blanket over their heads. Joe Biden’s campaign slogan seems to be “I Won’t Do Much,” or more succinctly, “Better Things Aren’t Really Possible.” Joe is the political equivalent of an Obama tribute band. You’ve seen them, imitators who look a little like the Rolling Stones. They play only the best hits, competently but not skillfully, showing how wide the gap is between someone who can pull “Honky Tonk Woman” from the ether and someone who can just play the cords with enthusiasm. It’s a way to make a living and for Joe Biden telling everyone things will look like the 1958 it might just be enough. Protip: don’t wager too many dineros on the political future of AOC and The Squad. Even Tulsi endorsed Biden on the way out.

     

    Orwell in 1984 never really explained how it all came to be. He wanted to shock readers with a dystopian society whole on page one, something that felt like it always was and thus always will be. For us, however, living in this time, the evolution is of some interest. Orwell was also an amateur. He imagined freedom as something people would fight for. He did not envision how easy it would be to manipulate fear into learned helplessness such that Americans would in the space of a week voluntarily give up most of their freedoms, along with their actual jobs. Orwell envisioned the need for a Ministry of Truth when in fact all it took was a handful of deaths, some prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling it “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles for the majority not only to go along with the new authoritarianism, but to demand more. Fear is the problem and empowering government is the solution. You have to give some things up for a safe good society. If not, you’re selfish, a thought crime.

    Of all the bell curves, the one of interest is when the cure becomes worse than the disease. When do we as a society cross the line where measures of social control are no longer affecting the spread of the disease but are damaging the life we live. Of course many of the draconian steps taken these past weeks will be pulled back. But some will stick. And the lessons learned by the darkest corners of American life will be jotted down. The same thing happened after 9/11, when frightened by terrorism, Americans gave up their rights to privacy and freedom from search with great enthusiasm. Somewhere Dick Cheney is saying to himself “we could have taken it so much further, we just didn’t realize it would be so easy.”

    Hey, Dick, check it out — we have voluntarily given up our livelihoods and jobs, freedom of assembly, and transferred most of our speech to social media monsters who can edit or block it as they wish. We are heading toward more dependency on government money to eat. Access to medical care, once limited by having “good” insurance, is now limited by medi-bureaucratic decisions — committees who will decide who gets to see a doctor. Remember how even the rumor of such “death panels” under Obamacare set people afire? We understand better now, sorry grandma.

    Unintended consequences? Doubt that. This did not just happen, our governments made it happen near enough to overnight and we wanted them to do that. No one wants to die. But think ahead to how we are going to live.
      

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  • Looking for Jim Jones Amid COVID-19

    March 30, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Economy, Embassy/State, Post-Constitution America, Trump


     
    I’m not worried about the guy coughing next to me. I’m worried about the ones who seem to be looking for Jim Jones.
     
    Jim Jones was the charismatic founder of the cult-like People’s Temple. Through fear-based control, Jones took his followers’ money and ran their lives. He isolated them in Guyana, where Jones convinced over 900 followers to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced grape Kool Aid. Frightened people can be made to do literally anything. They just need a Jim Jones.
     
    So it is more than a little scary Never Trumper and MSM zampolit Rick Wilson wrote Twitter to his 753k Twitter followers “People who sank into their fear of Trump, who defended every outrage, who put him before what they knew was right, and pretended this chaos and corruption was a glorious new age will pay a terrible price. They deserve it.” The Tweet was liked over 82,000 times.

    The NYT claims “the specter of death speeds across the globe, ‘Appointment in Samarra’-style, ever faster, culling the most vulnerable.” Others are claiming Trump will cancel the election to rule as a Jim Jones. “Every viewer who trusts the words of Earhardt or Hannity or Regan could well become a walking, breathing, droplet-spewing threat to the public,” opined the Washington Post, which suggested they should be placed on hiatus. And the rest of you, drink the damn Kool Aid and join in the panic enroute to Guyana.

    In the grocery store in Manhattan just after the announcement of the national state of emergency was pure panic buying. I saw a fight broke out in one aisle after an employee brought out a carton of paper towels to restock the shelf and someone grabbed the whole carton for themselves. The police were called. One cop had to stay behind to oversee the lines at the registers and maintain order. To their credit the NYPD were cool about it. I heard them talk down one of the fighters  saying “You wanna go to jail over Fruit Loops? Get a hold of yourself.” Outside New York, sales of weapons and ammunition spiked.

    Panic seems to be something we turn on and off, or moderate in different ways. Understanding that helps reveal what is really going on.

    No need for history. Right now, in real time, behind the backs of the coronavirus, is the every-year plain old influenza. Some 12,000 people have died, with over 13 million infected from influenza just between October 2019 and February 2020. The death toll is screamingly higher (as this is printed corona has killed just 69 Americans.) One does not hear much about that. Why?
     
    Bluntly: more people have already died of influenza in the U.S. than from coronavirus in China, Iran, and Italy combined. Double in fact. To be even more blunt, no one really cares even though a large number of people are already dead. Why?
     
    The first cases of the swine flu, H1N1, appeared in April 2009. By the time Obama finally declared a national emergency seven months later, the CDC reported 50 million Americans, one in six people, had been infected and 10,000 Americans had died. In the early months Obama had no HHS secretary or appointees in the department’s 19 key posts. No commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, no surgeon general, no CDC director. The vacancy at the CDC was especially important because in the early days of the crisis only they could test for the virus; states weren’t allowed until later (sound familiar?) The politically-appointed DHS secretary, not a medical doctor, led the federal effort. Some 66 percent of Americans thought the president was protecting them. There was no panic. Why?

    Of course Trump isn’t Obama. But if you really think it is that black and white, that one man makes that much difference in the multi-leveled response of the vast federal government to a health crises you don’t know much about the federal bureaucracy. In fact, most of the people who handled the swine flu are now working the coronavirus, from rank and file at CDC, HHS, and DHS to headliners like Drs. Andrew Fauci (in government since 1968, worked Obama-ebola) and Deborah Brix (in government since 1985, prior to her current role with Trump-corona was an Obama-AIDS appointee.)

    Maybe the most salient example is the aftermath of 9/11. Those who lived through it remember it well, the color threat alerts, the sneaky Muslims lurking everywhere, the sense of learned/taught helplessness. The enemy could be anywhere, everywhere, and we had no way to fight back. We panicked like never before. But because the Dems and Repubs were saying basically the same thing, there was a camaraderie to it (lead by Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, where are they now?), not discord. But the panic was still very real. Why?
     
    Why? We panicked when people took steps to ensure we would. We were kept calm when there was nothing to gain by spurring us to panic (the swine flu struck in the midst of the housing crisis, there was enough to worry about and it could all be blamed on the previous administration.) The aftermath of 9/11 is especially clarifying. A fearful populus not only supported everything the government wanted to do, they demanded it. Nearly everyone cheered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and not believing the government meant you were on their side, either with “us” or against us. The Patriot Act, which did away with whole swaths of the Bill of Rights, was overwhelmingly supported. There was no debate over torture, offshore penal colonies, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, and all the other little horrors. The American people counted that as competent leadership and re-elected George W, Bush in the midst. Fear and panic were political currency.

    Jump to 2020. Need an example of how to manipulate panic? Following fears of a liquid bomb, for years after 9/11 TSA limited carry-on liquids to four ounce bottles. Can’t be too careful! Yet because of corona they just changed the limit for hand sanitizer only (which with its alcohol content is actually flammable, as opposed to say shampoo) to 12 ounces. Security theatre closed down alongside Broadway tonight.

    False metrics are also manipulative because they make fear seem scientific. We ignore the low death rate and focus on the number of tests done. But whatever we do will never be enough, never can be enough, the same way any post-disaster aid is never delivered quick enough because the testing is not (just) about discovering the extent of the virus. For those with naughty motives, it is about creating a race we can’t win, so testing becomes proof of failure. Think about the reality of “everyone who wants one should get a test.” The U.S. has 331 million people. Testing 10 percent of them in seven days means 4,714,285 individuals a day for seven consecutive days while the other 90 percent of the population holds their breath. Testing on demand is not realistic at this scale. Selective decision-based testing is what will work.

    South Korea, held up as the master of mass testing, conducted at its peak about 20,000 a day. Only four percent were positive, a lot of effort for a little reassurance. Tests are valuable to pinpoint the need for social distancing but blunt tools like mass social distancing (see China) also work. Tests do not cure the virus. You can hide the number of infections by not testing (or claim so to spur fear), but very sick people make themselves known at hospitals and actual dead bodies are hard to ignore. Tests get the press, but actual morbidity is the clearest data point.
     
    There will be time for after-action reviews and arguments over responsibility. That time is never in the midst of things, and one should question the motives of journalists who use rare access to the president to ask questions meant largely to undermine confidence. If they succeed, we will soon turn on each other. You voted for him, that’s why we’re here now. Vote for Bernie and Trump wins and we all literally die. You bought the last toilet paper. You can afford treatment I can’t. You’re safe working from home while I have to go out. Just wait until the long-standing concept of medical triage is repackaged by the media as “privilege” and hell breaks loose in the ERs. We could end up killing each other long even as the virus fades.

    At the very least we will have been conditioned to new precedents of control over personal decisions, civil life, freedom of movement and assembly, whole city lock-downs, education, public information, and an increasing role for government and the military in health care. More control by authorities over our lives? Yes, please! Gee, it’s almost as if someone is taking advantage of our fears for their own profits and self-interest. Teachers who just digitized their classes at no cost to their employers and created the online infrastructure to eliminate classrooms, don’t be surprised if less of you, and fewer actual classrooms, are needed in the virus-free future.
     
    There are many reasons to take prudent action and not downplay the virus. There are no good reasons for fear and panic. The fear being promoted has no rational basis compared to regular influenza and the swine flu of 2009. We have a terrifying example in 9/11 of how easily manipulated fearful people are. Remaining calm and helping others do so is a big part of what your contribution to the disaster relief is going to be. As John Kennedy said, “We cannot expect that everyone will talk sense to the American people. But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.”
     
    That’s one way to see this. Too many right now however seem to be looking for Jim Jones.
      

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  • Biden My Time as Bernie Burns Out

    March 16, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump


     

    How did the Democrats end up with Joe Biden their presumptive nominee?
     

    After three years of preparatory media artillery fire about diversity and change, those stupid pink hats, and chumming the electorate with promises of free college alongside all the healthcare-they-care-to-eat, Democrats started with six women, a couple of black people, the gay one, a huge mix of experience and background, and progressive ideas ranging from the necessary to the kooky.

    Here’s the full list of players — Biden, Gabbard, Sanders, Warren, Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Steyer, Patrick, Yang, Bennet, Delaney, Booker, Williamson, Castro, Harris, Bullock, Sestak, Messam, O’Rourke!, Ryan, de Blasio, Gillibrand, Moulton, Inslee, Hickenlooper, Swalwell, Walsh, Sanford, and some guy from West Virginia named Richard Ojeda.

    How many of their faces can you picture?
     

    The Democrat party ended up choosing the only candidate from 1958, 77-year-old Joe Biden. He’s old, he’s tired, he lost the race for president twice already (once for plagiarism and lying about his education), and he appears to be in some state of cognitive decline. Between the hair plugs and too-much botox he looks waxy, like grandpa putting himself out there for one last fling after grandma Obama passed away God rest her soul. That Biden is required to chose a woman as his VP as a sop to the last three years only serves to emphasize the tokenism of the moment — ironically it is the Democratic party which has demonstrated a woman, gay person, or POC can’t be elected president but here, see, we’ll put your photo on the refrigerator so everyone can see how hard you tried.

    The entire premise of the Democratic primary was false. It misunderstood Trump’s election as a fluke if not an outright scam, and that The People wanted a revolution. This was sustained by a relatively small group of disconnected people who through cancelation culture, peer pressure, and the need to fill a 24/7 media vacuum convinced each other they were right. So when a mediagenic Hispanic woman won a nothing race by a few votes against a sleepy incumbent in the Bronx, they told each other they were right and AOC is the proof. The echo chamber made it seem they were always right as they serially proclaimed new saviors, off-stage The Squad, on stage Beto! and Pete predominantly, though Booker, Harris, Klobuchar and others were granted mini-moments after a decent debate performance or some minor event. Some call it the “pundit fallacy,” a belief driven inside the echo chamber that Americans are at heart progressive people who haven’t yet been educated to vote the way they really should.

    The problem was as soon as the actual people were allowed a word it all fell apart. The primary narrowed very quickly. White voters didn’t like the black candidates. Novelty candidates like Yang and Steyer sucked up bandwidth and confused the electorate. Midwesterners were terrified of initiatives aimed at transgender, reparation, and illegal immigrant support blocks that existed only in the minds of candidates who read too much in the Atlantic and The Nation. Everyone wanted better healthcare but very few agreed a massive upheaval of our capitalist economic system was the way forward on that. The candidates went out of their way to ignore public opinion on these issues and alienate voters, especially purple voters. Maybe next time the party can find a progressive thinker who also likes to hunt deer.

    Now quick, name one of Biden’s signature policy initiatives.
     

    The second-to-last man standing, Bernie, was artificial. Unlike everyone else in the field, he started with a pre-built organization, fully-formed policies, and a cash load from 2016. He had a certain glow to him, having been treated so unfairly in 2016 but that did not help much when there was no anti-Hillary vote to glom. But while initial powerups allowed Bernie to survive, he never grew. The new voters he counted on never appeared, at least not for him. Voter turnout did increase on Super Tuesday compared with 2016 but most of those new voters went for Biden. Bernie was the rock band still touring behind its one smash hit; the audiences are the same people who loved them in the 70s, just older now, even as the size of the venues shrunk.

    The process of elimination reality drove forward was nudged by old-fashioned party power plays. Black voters were massed by local pols in South Carolina to come out for Biden. Someone behind the curtain (almost certainly Obama) made the calls to Buttigieg and Klobuchar and told them, as he likely did in 2016 with Biden to clear the way for Hillary, “kid, this ain’t your night.”

    You end up with Joe Biden.
     

    One writer called Biden’s success the product of the “politics of exhaustion,” seeing a Democratic electorate not anxious for change, but one that’s just tired, and tired of being tired. The unrelenting apocalyptic news cycles of the past few years depressed them and finally burned them out, and all they want is to tune out and put someone acceptable enough in charge. When Nancy Pelosi declared the morning of Super Tuesday “Civilization as we know it is at stake in the 2020 election” they had had it.

    Exhausted, you end up with Joe Biden, running on three things: 1) he’s not Trump; 2) maybe he’ll die in office and his VP will take over early in his term and 3) Joe’s cognitive decline appears slightly less than Trump’s in the race for Mr. Alzheimer 2020 but we’re not sure. Not exactly “Hope and Change.”

    Biden candidacy also means sweeping three years of Democratic messaging under the bed. The list of subjects Joe won’t be able to talk about is a long one. Russiagate imploded on its own. Impeachment centered Hunter Biden and ain’t nobody on the Democratic side gonna bring that up.

    President Bone Spurs? Biden received five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War, same as Trump. In 1968 when his student status was wrapping up, Biden was medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma. Yet in his autobiography he described an active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player. He also lied about being on the University of Delaware football team.

    Trump’s naughty finances? After leaving the Obama White House Joe and his wife made more than $15 million, mostly via a sweetheart book deal. Biden and his wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as they did in the previous 19 years combined. The University of Pennsylvania gave Joe $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to grant him indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching. Biden charged the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property so they could protect him. Since leaving office Biden made $2.4 million on speaking engagements, including $10,000 for travel expenses to the University of Buffalo. A speech at Southwestern Michigan in October 2018 included $50,000 in travel expenses (for the rubes out there, travel expenses are not taxable income.)

    Taxes? After failing to close the loophole with Obama, Joe left office to create his own S Corporation, so he receives money for things like book advances and speaking fees not directly, which would cause him to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as with salaries, but laundered as divestitures from a corporation he owns. As corporate money, nasty personal taxes are fully avoided, and the corporation can claim nearly unlimited “business expenses” to be deducted against those profits. Joe’s S Corp also donated his own money back to his PAC. Legal laundering.

    Trump’s sexism and racism? Young people, Google “Anita Hill” now. You’ll be hearing a lot about her come the fall.

    Biden represents to many Democrat voters semi-living proof they will never see healthcare reform in their lifetime (Biden’s comeback drove a $48 billion gain for health insurance stock; they know.) Absent a timely cardiac event, they will not see a woman president for who knows how many years. Income inequality will remain the salient descriptor of our society. To win, Biden will have to break the record for oldest man to be sworn in as president (Trump holds the title now.)

    Biden’s worst enemy heading into November will be low voter turnout. His opponent for Democratic votes will be Mr. Just Stay Home. That’s why those polls which show broad dissatisfaction with Trump are useless. The Trade Joe Moms of Northern Virginia are never going to vote for Donald Trump. But they just might vote for no one. There are ominous signs; polls for several states Biden won on Super Tuesday, including Massachusetts, Texas and several southern states that helped catapult the former vice president into front-runner status found young voters did not show up at the rate they did in 2016. Same problem for disrespected Bernie supporters who just might sit November out.

    The black voters who saved Biden in South Carolina are notoriously fickle when it comes to turn out. Older Americans, who favor Trump, historically turn out at 30 to 40 percent higher rates than the youngest voters. The exaggeration of white privilege that became a cornerstone of the Democratic party — whites are racist, illiterate opioid-soaked gun nuts — is also one of the ways Democrats risk losing the 2020 presidential race, as it leads inexorably to the devaluation of voters needed to clinch the Electoral College.
     

    Biden’s presumptive status as nominee triggered the MSM hive mind to drop any talk of the issues which have dominated their agenda for three years in favor of droning about electability. It makes little sense. Why else vote for someone if not for what he represents and will do? You want electability, run a puppy. Biden represents the end state of a political thinking that literally anyone must be better than Trump. The backup plan seems to be rooting for the coronavirus to  trigger a massive recession.

    That’s betting the whole house on one thin straw. It’s what happens when you settle for Joe Biden.
     

     

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  • Fearing Fear Itself, Now That’s Something to Be Afraid Of

    March 14, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Trump



     

    This is not about downplaying something serious. It is about preventing mistakes that will make things worse.

    Nothing is more viral than fear. Fear  — fight or flight — is a terrible way to make decisions that call for time, science, and rational thinking. Want to screw up a public health crisis? Let fear drive.
     

    Democrats, conditioned by years of faux-narratives to believe everything Trump does is “an existential threat to America,” are about twice as likely as Republicans to say the coronavirus poses an imminent danger. Our political party should not affect how we respond to an epidemic, but it does.

    “Our hyper-polarization is so strong that we don’t even assess a potential health crisis in the same way. And so it impedes our ability to address it,” said Jennifer McCoy, a Georgia State political science professor. “I am not scared of Covid-19,” a Canadian infectious disease expert wrote, “I am scared about the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic.” “COVID-19 is infecting our minds, not our lungs,” says Psychology Today. Trump Derangement Syndrome, and whatever its opposite is, might actually help kill us this time.
     

    Fear makes for poor public health decisions. Remember the 1980’s?

    In 1981 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported five cases of a strange pneumonia. The disease didn’t even have a name until the next year, and wasn’t isolated in the lab until 1984. By the end of the decade 27,408 people died from AIDS. It would go on to kill over 500,000 Americans. Yet while a horrible disease and a miserable way to die, in retrospect “the problem with AIDS was really two epidemics — the real health epidemic and the epidemic of the mind.” The New York Times concluded “in the 1980’s, fear spread faster than AIDS.” America paid a price in lives.

    The fear was countable. In the mid-80’s 60 percent of Americans wanted HIV+ people to carry a card noting their status; one in three said employers should fire employees who had AIDS. Some 21 percent of Americans said people with AIDS should be isolated from the rest of society in leper colonies. Even a professional medical journal wrote dramatically “A specter is haunting our streets — the specter of AIDS, a remorseless and incurable disease whose nature, transmission and effects still contain elements of mystery.”
     

    Those mysteries are always the most dangerous elements in shaping public health policy via fear, and with AIDS, centered on exaggerating the problem.

    Given that most early cases surfaced inside communities already viewed as modern day Sodoms, many sought to exaggerate the crisis from a quasi-religious point of view; God was smiting the gays. And some of those homosexuals were coming for your kids! Tragically, too many felt the more who died of AIDS the better, and played up the deaths as “Judgement.” The rest of us, God-fearing, were safe. Homophobia manifested as fear crushed human compassion. It’s almost like hoping the current economy goes into a deep recession, destroying the savings of millions of Americans, so Trump’s chances of reelection fall. Or one politician hoping the virus infects those at MAGA rallies.

    The Reagan administration, with its political debt to newly-empowered evangelical voters, was indifferent at best toward using Federal funds to study or prevent AIDS. Congress agreed; in 1987 it banned the use of federal funds for AIDS prevention and education campaigns that “promoted or encouraged, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities.” Years were lost as the virus spread, and who knows how many died because of the delay in funding.

    The rest of us were not innocent. In the mid-to-late 1980s “AIDS hysteria” was a familiar term in the media and public life, and popular comedians made crude jokes that today would never be sanctioned. A study found “health care trainees and professionals have demonstrated that their level of empathy and caring for HIV/AIDS is negatively affected by the knowledge that the person being treated is homosexual.” A 1985 Time magazine story, “The New Untouchables,” focused on an incident in New York where parents refused to send their children to a school after one student was identified as HIV+. “What about somebody sneezing in the classroom? What about the water fountain? What about kids who get in a fight with a bloody nose? They don’t know!” said one frightened parent.

    Gay activists also sought to drive public opinion through fear. You Mr. Whitebread can catch it too! The fear of a “heterosexual breakout” was employed to coax a Middle American audience toward political awareness. The gay community also sought to exaggerate the extent of the crisis as spur to action, primarily more government funding. In 1988, after New York revised its estimates of HIV+ citizens significantly downward, members of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (Act Up) were arrested at a sit-in at the Health Department. Hecklers trailed the Health Commissioner demanding he resign. His home was picketed and spray-painted. There were death threats against him. Yet statistical studies some 30 years later showed even his lower numbers from the 1980s overestimated the extent of the epidemic by some 50 percent. The Commissioner had been right to tamp down the threat.

    More radical methods also sought to fight the religious narrative. Act Up disrupted Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, where demonstrators desecrated the communion wafers and chained themselves to pews while 4,500 protested outside. A demonstration outside Boston’s Holy Cross Cathedral during an ordination ceremony had Act Up members, some in drag, tossing condoms at newly ordained priests.

    Activists justify their use of fear as the only way to have focused attention on the disease. But that ignores the tragic results of their actions. While funding did increase, much of the government’s early AIDS-prevention budget was used to raise awareness among hetero college students, women, and others who faced relatively low risk. Money was diverted away from the gay communities that needed it the most.

    Even today, AIDS and other fear-mongered diseases soak up a disproportionate share of research funds. Diseases that account for 84 percent of deaths in the U.S. receive less than half of NIH funding. Cancer and HIV/AIDS in particular receive a disproportionately large amount, while chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity receive less funding relative to the costs they impose on society. The squeaky wheel gets the grease irrespective of good public health policy, and the language of those squeaks is fear.
     

    The worry is always the unknown, and on Day One of any epidemic involving a new virus nearly everything is unknown, and near nothing known. Mistakes get made as protocols and procedures are created (in reality, field tested) on the fly. Japan, with an excellent universal health care system and a non-partisan public health bureaucracy, miserably mishandled a cruise ship quarantine, turning the boat into a virus incubator. But while mistakes will be made, protocols will improve. People once believed they should not shake hands with a gay person, or share a public toilet, for fear of catching the disease. As fear forms around the unknown, people, both well-meaning and not, fill the space as science races to catch up. Charlatans promote fake cures. Black marketers run up prices. There will be political hay to be made whether you are driving a pro- or anti- agenda. Things will be unknown until they are known, and no one knows when that is — another unknown.

    “AIDS is grim enough without exaggeration,” cited one prescient editorial of the day. “Why has the truth disappeared so far from view? Perhaps because the chief interpreters of the data want to reflect their own messages. Public health experts see a unique chance to reduce all sexually transmitted diseases. Medical researchers demand $1 billion in new Federal spending against AIDS, hoping to refurbish their laboratories. Government epidemiologists, seeking to protect homosexuals and drug addicts, fear the Reagan Administration may acquire the notion that these are the only people at risk. Moralists see a heaven-sent chance to preach fire, brimstone and restricted sex. Homosexuals have no desire to carry the stigma of AIDS alone.”

    While fear as a manipulative tool, especially as a political manipulative tool, is nothing new, the coronavirus panic appears at a new place in America. Social media lets too many people Joker-like pour fuel on fires, with no interest in putting them out. MSM, which once at least spoke of their job as information gathering, now pursues an unambiguous political agenda when it is not just peddling raw anxiety as a profit center. We are ever more diverse and ever more separated, life divided into subreddits. We live exhausted, on knife’s edge, lip deep in cynicism, decline, illegitimacy, and distrust. We never find time to exhale. It isn’t safe anymore for us to have common fears.

    The bottom line? Fear is a powerful motivator. But fear is a miserable alternative to science and rational thinking, and a terrible tool to employ when fighting an epidemic. Only when science replaced fear did AIDS subside to where today the disease is a manageable element of public health.
     

    So wash your hands. Use sanitizer. Ask questions. The virus is dangerous. But keep fear in check. Ask yourself why Dr. Oz is part of NBC News’ “Coronavirus Crisis Team.” As you encounter information that focuses on worst-case scenarios, seems to exaggerate or downplay unknowns, uses terms like surge, crash, skyrocket, tumble, leaves out conflicting information to create a unipolar stance, is more White House gossip than science, anything that starts with Report: ask yourself if the primary purpose seems to be peddling fear — to sell you a product, to get you to click (you’re the product being sold), to influence your vote (same.) If so, socially isolate yourself from that source.

    And stop reading political journalists to learn about a health issue. I write this from New York, under a declared state of emergency. Yet for all the headlines announcing this new state, one has to dig deep to find the primary motivation for the declaration was simply “a more expedited purchasing and testing protocol.” It’s more about a better bureaucracy now than something with sirens and flashing lights now.

    The numbers will go up until they start going down (it is a virus after all; new cases are declining in China and South Korea) but keep the numbers in perspective. There is nothing investors fear more than uncertainty. Right now, that is all there is and volatility in the markets will continue until uncertainty, and then fear, back off. Lack of testing can artificially hide infected cases but deaths are harder to hide. Before you blame someone or something, figure out how to blame away the virus in China, Italy, Iran, and elsewhere where they don’t have Trump, and do have universal healthcare, sick leave or whatever other partisan talking point is being pushed.Panic is easy, a measured response hard.

    Don’t let fear take from you what the virus is unlikely ever to even threaten.

     

    BONUS!

    Fear as a political tool is common in the modern ear. Never mind fact-checking, the most powerful political ads are built around emotion, with no facts to check. Two of the most well-known are the 1964 “Daisy” TV commercial, which with barely a word said drove voters terrified of nuclear weapons to vote for LBJ over Barry Goldwater.

    In 2008 Hillary Clinton employed a nearly-identical ad against Barack Obama, the famous “3am Phone Call.”


     
     

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  • Propaganda and the Coronavirus

    March 9, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Economy


     
    “Um, is it Colonel Vindman in the Russian Tea room with the coronavirus?”

    “Very funny. Now everyone settle down. Welcome back to Propaganda and the Death of Media 101 in case you’re in the wrong class, and its, um, March 15, 2024. Now we were discussing the role of propaganda and the media in trying to influence the re-election of Donald Trump by tying his leadership to a global pandemic. Propaganda in these cases seeks to diminish people’s view of a leader’s competence. The ultimate goal is to get you to vote him out.

     

    For those of you in the back holding up those tattered Bernie signs, God rest his soul, let’s start with the question of whether the media engaged in propaganda at all. Contrast the sense of panic in 2020 whipped into place with how things played out in 2009 under Obama. The first cases of the swine flu, H1N1, appeared in April 2009. By the time Obama finally declared a national emergency that fall, the CDC reported 50 million Americans, one in six people, had been infected and 10,000 Americans had died. In the early months of the disease, Obama had no Secretary of Health and Human Services or appointees in any of the Department’s 19 key posts. No Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, no Surgeon General, no CDC Director. The gap at CDC was particularly important, as in the early days of the crisis only they could test for the virus; states weren’t enabled until later. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, not a medical doctor, lead the federal effort.

    The first real H1N1 cases appeared in Mexico. The border was not sealed, Mexicans were not forbidden to enter the U.S. Though CDC recommended against travel there, the primary danger cited was kidnapping for ransom. Yet 66 percent of Americans, supported by the media, thought the president was protecting them. Some 4,000 Americans were dead before a vaccine was first distributed.

    The emergency proclamation it took Obama seven months to declare was issued by Trump within 30 days of the current virus being found abroad. He announced a temporary suspension of entry into the U.S. of foreign nationals who pose a risk for the transmission of the coronavirus (CNN criticized “the travel ban could stigmatize countries and ethnicities.”) And yes, Trump encouraged everyone to wash their hands.

    Anybody here remember the media freaking out over Obama’s initial response, which was hand washing was pretty much what was needed? Anyone who did the reading find evidence of national panic throughout the crisis? No. Why did the media cover essentially the identical story so very differently for two presidents? The question is the answer.

     

    Look at the timing in 2020; the crisis came when the media decided it was time for a crisis. Though the virus dominated headlines in Asia since mid-January, American media first relegated the story to the business news. In late February the main “Trump” story was Russiagate II, the revelation (which quickly fell apart) the Russians were meddling again in the election. The Democratic debate at the end of February invoked Putin many times. The virus barely came up.

    Then the NYT sent up the Bat Signal for the new crisis on February 26, the day after the Democratic debate, with an article titled “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus” (subtlety is not required for propaganda.) An effort was born overnight to blame Trump personally for the virus, and essentially declare his chances of reelection done. The critical change was not anything to do with the virus itself, simply with the decision by the media to elevate the story from the business section to the front page. Even a week after that, with American sanity in a tailspin, only two Americans had died, and about half the known U.S. cases arrived with the evacuees from Japan. Of course the numbers quickly went up (that’s why we use the expression “going viral” for your Instagram blowups, kids) but imagine what a graph of actual cases would look like versus a graph measuring panic.

     

    You’ll see in your textbooks another example which shows how propaganda works, the reporting of initial problems with the CDC coronavirus test kits. One typical headline claimed “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as the stories were written; 15,000 testing kits were released within 48 hours of that story with plans to send out an additional 50,000. Each kit can test 700-800 patient samples.

    The follow-on stories screamed about Trump funding cuts to the CDC, most of which were actually only proposed. Then the stories were merged — Trump cut CDC funding and thus not enough kits were available. Not only were both pieces largely untrue individually (few cuts were made, kits were available), the merging of the two was grossly false. Instead of examining these things for lessons learned in the midst of an unfolding crisis, the media treated them as new bits to mock Trump with, like late night comedians trolling the news for material for their monologue.

    No room was left for people making errors in novel decisions under time pressure, just the jump to “Trump incompetence” instead of doing the real work of looking into the questions. The problem with the testing kits was a highly technical one involving chemical reagents and factory contamination. CDC is a massive institution. Who if anyone there made any “bungled” decisions? Would they have likely made a better decision with different funding? If so, then Congress can act and drop some money on that office. If not, move on, there is work to do. It is how the media acts when they seek to fix the blame, not the problem.

     

    The propaganda surrounding how the government initially handled the coronavirus was also obvious in the false “who is in charge” question the media asked. The vice president was given the role heading up the task force. This is the kind of thing VPs do, bring gravitas, make sure a whole of government approach has the bureaucratic firepower it needs, and so on. The propaganda instead hyper-focused on Mike Pence’s “disbelief in science,” itself more of a chanted mantra than anything established by fact. For “proof” the stories settled on Pence supposedly creating an HIV epidemic while governor of Indiana. The reality is much different. Pence took office opposed to needle exchanges. When dirty needles shared among opioid users in rural Scott County, Indiana were linked to 71 cases of HIV transmission, Pence responded to the new information (sad to see people die, but 71 deaths is all it was and many would have died from their drugs soon enough) by changing his policy and authorizing needle exchange in Scott and four other counties. The reality seems much closer to seeing an ideological stance changed by science than the opposite.


    Pence said at the time “I’m going to put the lives of the people of Indiana first. It’s a commitment to law and order, but it’s a commitment to compassion.”

    Meanwhile, the media largely ignored those Pence chose for the taskforce. One was Dr. Deborah Birx, a career medical professional nominated by Obama in 2014 as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator. She also served as head of the global HIV/AIDS division at CDC, was an immunology researcher at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and an Army colonel. You want to inspire confidence you profile Dr. Brix; you want to sow discord you misrepresent Mike Pence’s decisions years ago.

     

    There’s so many more examples, but our class time is short. Here are a few.

     

    You can report on the elimination of Obama’s pandemic czar but leave out that the position was just a coordination job on the National Security Council with no real power. It sounds scary (one outlet called it sabotage) to see that job go, but in fact the coordination duties within NSC were reassigned to others.

    You can focus on every coronavirus case as proof efforts are failing while ignoring providing perspective by reminding 12,000 people died, with over 13 million infected, from the regular influenza (the one with the vaccine) between October 2019 and February 2020.

    You can focus on time will take to develop a full-on vaccine and ignore the treatments already now in human testing trials.

    You can purposefully confuse accelerating public health measures already underway with America’s lack of universal individual health care. We have plenty of the former, not enough of the latter. But the pandemic is not a solid argument for the latter as it is a problem of public health policy. That’s why even countries with good, free care systems are suffering the virus. Medicare for All would not have changed anything in 2020.

    You can cover the virus as you did Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Everyone was gonna die there until they didn’t. You can follow the now-standard Trump propaganda template: say he won’t do enough, then say what he does isn’t being done fast enough, predict everything will collapse (with Katrina references) and then move on to a new crisis as the reality of the response takes hold.

    You can report on panic selling on Wall Street, or explain how global supply chain problems are not caused by the virus, but by traders’ reaction to the unknowns of the virus. China’s factories closed because the government enforced social isolation, not because the workers were dead. Soon enough Apple products flowed back into our greedy hands, and the stock market found its way back to a new normal.

    You can report store closings, but not their reopenings. By March 1 Starbucks had reopened 85 percent of its stores in China. Apple, over 50 percent. You can emphasize how many Chinese factories were closed in February, or report on their reopenings in March.

    You can misrepresent the use of words like hoax to make the president appear weak.

    You can ignore the drop off in cases inside China. Only a few days after the first cases appeared in the U.S., new ones inside China dropped to 200.

    You can avoid reporting how viruses follow a bell curve. Case counts first rise quickly, the virus claims the “easy” deaths among the elderly, and then environmental factors (viruses must live inside a host; they have limited life outside on surfaces`, typically less and less as temperatures climb. This is why you can’t catch HIV from a toilet seat) and public health measures kick in. Treatment emerges and the virus fades. You can explain to calm people where they are in what looks like a 10-12 week cycle to or you can ignore it to stoke fear of the unknown.

    The bell curve template is clearly illustrated by a look-back to how HIV/AIDS went from a massive public health crisis in America to a manageable problem. As the virus became known, panic took hold. False reporting outran reality. But the bell curve took over; the virus’ transmission became well understood, better testing protocols developed, excellent preventive medicines became available, and treatment regimes now exist which ensure long lives in remission. Knowns displace unknowns. None of this is to minimize the suffering enroute to the current state, but to show there is an established path even for a virus far more deadly than corona.

    Class concluded.

    “Hey professor, is all this gonna be on the test?”

    “No, but it may influence an election. And don’t forget to wash your hands before lunch, something is going around.”
      

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  • Democratic Narrative: No Morning in America for You

    March 6, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Economy, Trump

     

    The chaos of the primaries, the lack of a clear party vision in the last debate — are Democrats a progressive party, a party of moderates, a plaything for billionaires or just people sniping each other for virtue points? It is time for concern.

    Politics is always about the biggest story you tell and how voters see themselves in that story. If the Democrats lose in November one of the main reasons — and the competition is strong — will be getting trapped inside a set of false narratives. Or, in the words of  James Carville, “Losing our damn minds.”

    Think how powerful the narratives of “Morning in America,” or “Hope and Change,” were, and contrast those with the Dems’ “things suck more than you realize, people” and you see where this is headed.

     



     

    At the top of the list is the economy. The Democratic narrative is the economy is bad, with a recession just around the corner (or maybe the corner after that, keep looking.) Yet outside the debate hall 59 percent of Americans feel they are better off than a year ago. The overall quality of life is satisfactory for a massive 84 percent. Unemployment is at historic lows. Wages are up a bit.

    The reality is bad enough for Dems. But the narrative problem is the Democrats are confusing a strong economy with economic inequality. The economy does benefit everyone, but it benefits a small percentage at the top much more. They have not gotten this message across to an electorate that is happy to have any job, content with some rise in wages, and for the half of Americans who own some stock, see some growth in their 401(k) to suggest maybe at least part of retirement won’t be dependent on canned soup being on sale. The Dems are running on a narrative that the economy failed; Americans believe if it failed, it failed less than before and that’s good enough.

    Holding Democrats back is their false narrative of all-you-can-eat white privilege. Economic inequality across America is not primarily racial, though it has a racial component. But Dems are still telling the old story, as if whites across the midwest still have the union factory jobs that raised them and blacks never did. The powerful message of “we’re all in this together” is being thrown away to capture black victimization narrative votes. Dems also insist on lumping blacks, Hispanics (30 percent of whom support Trump), Chinese, and everyone non-lily into “People of Color,” a classic case of one size fits none. It would be an award-winning SNL skit to watch Larry David’s Bernie try to convince a Chinese friend, a medical doctor with kids in the Ivies, that as a “POC” his personal concerns had significant crossover with what was happening to a guy uptown as played by guest host Samuel L. Jackson. It’s about money, stupid, not color.

     



     

    Dems seem to be working this narrative into the ground in an effort to alienate as many voters as possible. Poor whites, too meth-addled to see Trump making false promises, deserve to be replaced by driverless delivery trucks. Poor blacks, it’s not your fault, because racism. Everyone else not white, whatever, go with the black folk on this one, ‘kay? An issue that could unite 90 percent of Americans gets lost. And if you don’t agree racism is the root cause of everything, from “top to bottom” as Bernie says, well, you’re a racist! James Carville says for the Democratic Party to win it has to drive a narrative that “doesn’t give off vapors that we’re smarter than everyone or culturally arrogant.” Instead, the strategy seems to be Dems turning from criticizing ideas to criticizing voters.

    Much of the rest is a mighty credibility issue for the Dems. They have stuck with so many proven false narratives so long no one believes them if anyone is even still listening. Trump did not work with Putin to get elected, yet Maddow on MSDNC is still pushing something similar even today. Do we really need to talk about how few Americans cared so little about impeachment? Trump did not start WWIII. Roe v. Wade is still firmly the law.

    But the transpeople! Dems have clung to the narrative transrights are somehow a major issue among voters; Biden tweeted “Let’s be clear: Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time.” While most voters want to see transpeople treated decently, there is no national election issue here. Same for all the other virtuous baggage Dems drag around the social media they take way too seriously — for example, rights and benefits for illegal immigrants. It makes them seem out of touch with mainstream America, a particular liability in an election likely to hinge on Purple voters in swing states.

    Dems also cling too hard to the narrative of Barack Obama. Maybe he deserves accolades for this or that, maybe not, but that the guy who seems to be the talk of the Democrat party isn’t one of the people on the ballot is not a strong thing. Barack and Michelle’s formal portraits are touring the nation, apparently so Democrats can worship them like artifacts from some lost cargo cult, a “communal experience of a particular moment in time,” according to the National Portrait Gallery. Five equally desperate candidates, with Biden in the lead Art Garfunkel role, are airing ads featuring St. Barack.

     



     

    Healthcare is a kitchen-table economic issue. A majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, rank cutting health care and drug costs as their top priority. That polled as far more important than passing a major health system overhaul like Medicare for All. Americans are not interested in converting the entire economy to some flavor of socialism just so they can see a doctor. The bigger the change Dems sell it as the more it frightens people away. Same for all the other free stuff Dems are using to troll for votes (college, loans, reparations.) Each good idea is wrapped in a grad school seminar paper requiring America to convert its economy from something people have grown to live with into something they aren’t sure they understand. It is a helluva narrative to sell at home, Democrats making an election against Trump into a sub-referendum on socialism lite at a time when Americans’ personal economic satisfaction is at a record high.

    Everybody’s great grandma was a wonderful immigrant, salt of the earth. But for much of the nation the narrative is no longer about whether immigration is a moral responsibility. Immigration for vast swaths of the nation is another kitchen-table economic issue. Dems are telling the wrong story — land of the free, huddled masses, yada yada — and seemingly ignoring pleas about opportunities lost. Their narrative cuts short the needed conversation about skills-based immigration policy as is standard in Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, and elsewhere for the 21st century instead of dragging forward a 19th century legal relic. People concerned about immigration as a pocketbook issue are thrown into the garbage dump by Dems as racists, as if Democrats instinctively cleave to the narrative that alienates the most voters.

    James Carville summed it up saying “We have candidates talking about open borders and decriminalizing illegal immigration. You’ve got Bernie Sanders talking about letting criminals and terrorists vote from jail cells. It doesn’t matter what you think about any of that, or if there are good arguments — talking about that is not how you win a national election… By framing, repeating, and delivering a coherent, meaningful message that is relevant to people’s lives and having the political skill not to be sucked into every rabbit hole that somebody puts in front of you.”

     



     

    WaPo wrote  “The 2020 election is no ordinary contest. It’s an emergency. If you’re being driven off a cliff, you don’t need to find your favorite Formula-1 driver. You just need someone to take the wheel and stop the impending carnage… Trump’s reelection would constitute an existential threat to our republic. He has already tried — repeatedly — to subvert our free and fair elections.” Among all the others, this is the fundamental flawed narrative which may get Trump re-elected. The Dem vision that we are either already in the abyss, or standing damn close to the edge. Many hard-core Dems feel this way because Trump, but I am far less sure that it is broadly felt outside the media/NYC/Hollywood world. Twitter is not real life. While few would go as far as “morning in America,” most are pretty sure it is not an emergency out there, and are pretty sure the majority of Americans will find it hard to support and trust a candidate who says it is.

    Where you once had hope and change, there’s instead the always exasperated Warren, the out-of-breath grumpy Bernie, that frozen Pete grin, Yang and Steyer once onstage giving their TED talks, all the lost governors remembered as well as the other guy from Wham!, Biden looking like the last surviving member of an 90’s rock band playing a Holiday Inn gig remembering when he and Barack once filled arenas, man. And now Mike Bloomberg, cosplaying a Democrat. Oh well, the Beto revival of 2024 isn’t that far away.

    If I were writing ad copy for the Republicans, I might try this: “Voters, do me a favor, look out the window. Do you see chaos? A Republic on the edge of collapse, Weimar, Rome, the U.S. in 1860? Is your life controlled by an authoritarian? That’s what Democrats say is out there. But you don’t see that, do you? You see more people with jobs. You have a little more. And more kids down the block are home from war then gearing up to fight in places like Libya and Syria none of us really care about, at least not enough to give up a son or daughter. So when you go to vote, think of whose story about what you see you believe. Your choice is pretty straightforward at that point. Have a good night, and a good day at work tomorrow.”

     
     

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  • Overheard About Biden

    March 4, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: 2020

     

    After three years of diversity-o-rama, year of the woman, BLM, blah blah the Democrats now dump on us the Battle of the Old White Men.

    And Trump will be the youngest contender on the ballot.

     
     

    “So what’s Biden’s strength?”

    “He’s not Trump. We’ll vote for anyone not Trump to beat Trump.”

    “Aren’t they all ‘Not Trump’?”

    “Yes, but Biden’s, um, the most Not Trump. And we can pretend Obama is president again. We’ll say he just slipped out of the White House for a pack of cigarettes* and we know he’ll be back one day.”

    *And Obama actually does smoke!

     

    “So, look at this. We have candidates with new ideas, candidates representing the demographic groups growing in the US, women, a gay guy, 2020 is going to be — ”

    “Sorry, we’re going with an old white party hack guy.”

    “No, really, Trump was the last of his kind, mutated yes, but the last of the dinosaurs…”

    “Sorry, we’re running the candidate from 1958. Pass the word.”

    “Seriously, we need to talk.”

    “Shut up and get back into the kitchen.”

     

    So is Warren still in the race because:

    a) she is there to sop up votes and weaken Bernie, she’s in on the whole rigged deal.

    b) she wants to go full medieval on Biden for awhile and at the next debate, she’s on Team Bernie.

    c) she is proving her independence after Obama or Hillary or whomever called her, Pete, and Amy and ordered them to quit.

    d) she’s still thinking VP.

    e) just didn’t get the memo, needs to check email more often.

     

    First they came for Tulsi, and I said nothing.

    Then they allowed not one, two but three super-wealthy men buy their way onto the debate stage to advocate for their views with little support from the people, and I said nothing.

    Then they changed the debate rules to kick Tulsi out, and let Bloomberg in, then again to kick Tulsi out a second time, and I said nothing.

    Then they engineered Bernie off center stage, and I said nothing.

    Then they said they hadn’t done all this before, in 2016, and crashed the election, and I said nothing.

    Then they demanded my vote and said otherwise *I’d* be the one responsible for re-electing Trump and I…

      

    Special thanks to the Democratic Party for convincingly answering, across three election cycles across 12 years, political scientists’ question about whether a woman can be elected president of the United States.

      

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  • The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!

    March 3, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump


     

    The Russians are back, paired alongside the American intelligence agencies playing deep inside our elections again. Who should we worry more about? Hint: Not the Russians.
     

    On February 13 the election security czar in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) briefed the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians were meddling again, and that they favored Trump. A few weeks earlier, the ODNI briefed the Sanders campaign the Russians were also meddling in the primaries, this time in his favor. Both briefings remained secret until this past week, when the former was leaked to the NYT in time to make smear Trump for replacing his DNI, and the latter leaked to the WaPo ahead of the Nevada caucuses to try and damage Sanders.

    Russiagate is back, baby. Russiagate II!
     

    You didn’t think after 2016 those bad boys of the intel “community” (which makes it sound like they all live together down in Florida somewhere) weren’t going to play again, and that they wouldn’t learn from their mistakes. Those mistakes were in retrospect amateurish. A salacious dossier built around a pee tape? Nefarious academics befriending minor Trump campaign staffers who would tell all to an Aussie ambassador trolling London’s pubs looking for young, fit Americans? Falsified FISA applications when it was all too obvious even Trumpkin greenhorns weren’t dumb enough to sleep with FBI honeypots? You’d think after influencing 85 elections across the globe since WWII the community would have be better at it, sure, but you also knew after failing to whomp a bumpkin like Trump once they would keep trying.

    Like any good intel op, you start with a tickle, make it seem like the targets are figuring it out for themselves. Get it out there Trump offered Wikileaks’ Julian Assange a pardon if he would state publicly Russia wasn’t involved in the 2016 DNC leaks. The story was all garbage, not the least of which was because Assange has been clear for years it wasn’t the Russians. And there was actually no offer of a pardon from the White House. And conveniently Assange is locked in a foreign prison and can’t comment. Whatever, time the Assange story to hit the day after Trump pardoned numerous high-profile scum bag white-collar criminals, so even the casual reader had Trump = Russians = Bad on their minds. You could just almost imagine a baritone announcer’s voice intoning “Previously, on Russiagate I…” as they whole thing unfolded.

    Then only a day after the Assange story (why be subtle?), let the sequel hit the theatres with the timed leaks to the NYT and WaPo. Then stand back and watch the MSM descend into free fall.

    CNN concluded “America’s Russia nightmare is back.” Maddow was ecstatic, bleating out “Here we go again” realizing her failed conspiracy theories could be recycled whole. Everybody quoted Have Adam Schiff firing off Trump was “again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling.” Tying it all to the failed impeachment efforts, another writer said “’Let the Voters Decide’ doesn’t work if Trump fires his national security staff so Russia can help him again.” The NYT fretted “Trump is intensifying his efforts to undermine the nation’s intelligence agencies.” Former CIA Director John Brennan (after leaking for a while, most boils dry up and go away) said “we are now in a full-blown national security crisis.” The undead Hillary Clinton tweeted “Putin’s Puppet is at it again, taking Russian help for himself.” It is reportedly clear we’ll be hearing breaking and developing reports about this from sources believed to be close to those in the know through November. Intel community 1, Trump 0.

    Kind of a miss on Bernie. He did very well in Nevada despite the leaks. But the Great Game of Russiagate II has a long way to go. Bernie himself assured us of that. Instead of poo-pooing the idea the Russians would be working for him, he instead gave it cred, saying “Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.” Sanders handed Russiagate II legs, signaling he’ll use it as cover for the Bernie Bros online shenanigans called out at the last debates. That’s playing with fire; it’ll be too easy later on to invoke all this around Comrade Bernie memes in the already wary purple states.
     

    Summary to Date: Everyone is certain the Russians are working to influence the election… (adopts cartoon Russian accent which also sounds a bit like WWII movie Nazi) but who is the cat and who is the mouse?

    Is Putin helping Trump get re-elected to remain his asset in place? Or is Putin helping Bernie “I Honeymooned in the Soviet Union” Sanders to make him look like an asset to help Trump? Or are the Russkies really all-in because Bernie is a True Socialist sleeper agent at heart, the Emma Goldman of his time (Bernie’s old enough to have taken Emma to his high school prom)? Or is it not the Russians but the American intel community helping Bernie to make it look like Putin is helping Bernie to help Trump? Or is it the Deep State saying the Reds are helping Bernie to hurt Bernie to help their man Bloomberg? Are the Russian spies tripping over the American spies in caucus hallways trying to get to the front of the room? Who can tell what is really afoot?
     

    See, the devil is in the details, which is why we don’t have any.

    The world’s greatest intelligence team can’t seem to come up with anything more specific than words like “interfering” and “meddling,” as if pesky Aunt Vladimir is gossiping at the general store again. CBS reported House members pressed the ODNI for evidence, such as phone intercepts or other SIGINT to back up claims Russia is trying to help Trump, but briefers had none to offer. Even Jake Tapper, a Deep State loyalty card holder, raised some doubts. WaPo, who hosted one of the leaks, had to admit deep in its story “It is not clear what form that Russian assistance has taken.” Just take our word for it, it’s Russia.

    Yes, yes, have to protect sources and methods, but of course the quickest way to stop Russian influence is to expose it. Instead, the ODNI dropped the turd in the punchbowl and walked away. Why not tell the public what media is being bought, which outlets are working, willingly or not, with Putin? Will we be left hanging with the claim “it was something something social media” again? Did the Reds buy $100 of Facebook ads or implant a radio chip in Biden’s skull? If you’re going to scream Communist zombies with MAGA hats are inside the house you’re obligated to provide a little bit more information. Why is it when specifics are required the response is only something like “Well, the Russians are sowing distrust and turning Americans against themselves in a way that weakens national unity” as if we’re all not eating enough green vegetables. Why leave us exposed to Russian influence for even a second when it could all be shut down in an instant?

    Because the intel community learned its lesson in Russiagate I. Details can eventually be investigated.  That’s where the old story fell apart. The dossier wasn’t true. Michael Cohen never met the Russians in Prague. Oops. The a-ha discovery was that voters don’t read much anyway, so just make claims. You’ll never really prosecute or impeach anyone, so why bother with evidence. Just throw out accusations and let the media fill it all in for you. After all, they managed to convince a large number of Americans Trump’s primary purpose in running for president was to fill vacant hotel rooms at his properties. Let the nature of the source — the brave lads of the intelligence agencies — legitimize the accusations this time, not facts.
     

    It will take a while to figure out who is playing who. Is the goal to help Trump, help Bernie, or defeat both of them to support Bloomberg? But don’t let the challenge of seeing the whole picture obscure the obvious: the American intelligence agencies are once again inside our election.

    The intel community crossed a line in 2016, albeit clumsily (what was all that with Comey and Hillary?), to play an overt role in the electoral process. When that didn’t work out as planned and Trump was elected, they pivoted and drove us to the brink of all hell breaking loose with Russiagate I. The media welcomed and supported them. The Dems welcomed and supported them. Far too many Americans welcomed and supported them in some elaborate version of the ends justifying the means.

    The good news from 2016 was the Deep State turned out to be less competent than we originally feared. But they have learned much from those mistakes, particularly how deft a tool a compliant MSM is. This election will be a historian’s marker for how a decent nation, fully warned in 2016, fooled itself in 2020 into self-harm. Forget about foreigners influencing our elections from outside; the zombies are already inside the house.

      

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  • Navigating the Homeless and Mentally Ill

    February 24, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, 2020, Democracy, Economy, Minimum Wage, Post-Constitution America

     

    New York, America’s richest city and Ground Zero in how economic inequality is reshaping every day of our lives.
     
    NYC is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. One apartment building alone, 740 Park Avenue, is home to the highest concentration of billionaires in the United States. Yet living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the highest homeless population of any American metropolis, close to 80,000 and growing. The homeless numbered 24,000 during Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral administration some twenty years ago. Three years after that the homeless population swelled to almost 38,000 under Michael Bloomberg. The number of homeless single adults today is 142 percent higher than it was ten years ago, the highest level since the Great Depression.
     
    The city shelters about 64,000 on any given night. Another 3,000 people make their full-time home in the subway system. Their belongings and their defecation crowd out morning commuters on the platforms. In the winter many never emerge above ground. A visitor from outer space would be forgiven for thinking they weren’t even human, recognizable as just a head emerging from a urine-soaked bundle of clothing, not living really, just waiting. The ones who prefer to ride the trains 20 hours a day or more are like one-celled amoebas that react to heat or light by moving out of the way, in the specific case a transit employee whose inquiry causes some physical shift but no sign of sentient action.

    Don’t be offended — what did you think runaway economic inequality was gonna end up doing to us? Macroeconomics isn’t a morality play. But for most New Yorkers the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created.

    Navigating income inequality is not a problem for the rich. Public transportation, once the great melting pot, is less so as Uber plays a bigger role. The new super apartments, with their city-required handful of “affordable” units, have separate entrances based on wealth. A someone goes and gets the coffee, does the shopping, delivers the food. Armored cars for personal use are seeing a boom in sales. NYC’s newest mega-development, Hudson Yards, (Jeff Bezos is a fan) has been dubbed the Forbidden City, a mean snub as it is self-contained, literally walled off from the environment around it (there are “service” entrances for workers, and the stores have their primary doors opening into the gated courtyard, not on to Tenth Avenue.) NYC helps its wealthy pay for all this with a generous 40 percent incentive tax break. The city also built Hudson Yards its own subway line and park network for a total expenditure of six billion (the city spends only half that total on the homeless.) Elsewhere private restaurants, private clubs, private entrances, members only-everythings and VIP sections at public events keep the homeless beyond arm’s reach.
     
    For the rest, stuck between middle class and the abyss, navigating the world of economic inequality is more of a contact sport.

    Public libraries are in various degrees off limits, at best shared, with the well-behaved homeless. They are among the tens of thousands who live in the gulag archipelago of NYC’s vast shelter system. Most of the shelters (there some exceptions for women with small children) are only open at night, leaving the residents to find somewhere to physically exist between 7am and 11pm, after which the city cares about them again. There is no daytime plan for this population, so in bad weather they take over the libraries. Regular patrons are on their own if the staff don’t manage it well; the signature main library with the stone lions has guards to send the homeless across the street to a branch, where the homeless are more or less curated like the oversize books on to one particular floor. At the 96th street branch, the library serves no other purpose than homeless daycare, except for a brief period after school when bodies are moved around for an hour or two to accommodate story time.

    How do the non-homeless navigate this? They buy books on Amazon. They buy quiet workspace and WiFi at coffee shops. They buy their way around the homeless same as others buy their way around via ride sharing services.

    Economic inequality is part of life for many New Yorkers. Not homeless but damn poor, 400,000 reside in taxpayer-paid permanent (permanent as in multi-generational, grandmas passing squatter’s rights to grandkids) public housing. Conditions are literally toxic in these “projects,” as well as crime-ridden and just plain Third World crumbling. And yes, New York’s public housing authority is the world’s largest. There are probably fewer no-go zones than in the dark times of the 1970s, but maybe more “why would you want to go there anyway” places.

    Housing prices for who can pay their own way are such that 40 percent of adult renters live with a roommate. The city even has a program to help elderly renters share their homes. Hanging on to the middle in times of economic inequality means shared or public housing, juggling multiple jobs which often pay less than minimum wage (Taskrabbit, Fiverr, who background check their employees and then send them into anonymous homes), living with life-crippling debt, skating on the edges of no healthcare, and snubbing your nose at people who aren’t living that Big Apple dream.

    In a society constantly creating more poor people and depleting its middle class, spending more money on shelters won’t work. Look to Honolulu. It has been overwhelmed with some 7,000 people who became newly homeless in 2019. That number erased the 616 homeless people per month, on average, who were placed into “permanent housing.” They’ll really not ever stop building until, in theory, shelters house about 99 percent of everyone.

    To lighten things up, New York loves irony. Many of the cheaper apartments for young Millenials are in the same parts of town which once housed new immigrants in the early 20th century, that now golden-hued era of open borders celebrated as a democratic ideal when a more accurate vision would realize it was just a massive labor pool for the wealthy to exploit. That’s also a reminder that modern immigrants, particularly from Central America, form the exploitable, discardable labor pool that undergirds New York’s food service and day labor industries, and staffs car repair shops, butcher and delivery businesses.

    Hey, businesses, too, still have to navigate, especially around the homeless. I used to work at a Barnes and Noble near the bus stop out to the main homeless shelters on Randall’s Island. The B&N was open late and in bad weather the homeless came in to wait for their ride. There was actually a store policy created, and the regulars were trained: don’t interfere with commerce, no bathing in the restrooms, no sleeping, use the electrical outlets in the back to charge phones, don’t panhandle in the coffee shop and you can stay. A kind of Darwinian process kept some warm inside while security moved others out into the weather.

    An ecosystem in balance, same as at most Starbucks. People here sometimes refer to the place as a public toilet which also happens to sell coffee because, following charges of discrimination, the chain now claims its space and toilets are open to all, not just customers. Of course in some marginal parts of town those toilets are forever closed to all “under repair,” but in most places the homeless are trained to navigate us, staying out of the way, taking a cup out of the trash to set on the table and pretend they are buying something. Being seen as being nice is important to Starbucks’ customers as they mentally navigate their own place being able to afford expensive coffee alongside those who have less. Awkward!

    As a woke company catering to woke customers who want nice things without guilt, Starbucks has a whole corporate page up about how kind they are to the homeless. Something similar at the new food court at Essex Market (called the “anti-Hudson Yards”), which has full-time staff assigned to monitor the public toilets, allowing the homeless in and nudging them into the boundaries the Market deems acceptable. Essex market, like Starbucks, seems to see faux-humanitarian gestures towards the homeless as part of its marketing plan to Millenials who don’t want to see bag ladies dragged into the street whilst sipping artisanal Tibetan tea. It’s pretty much all just undergrad-level socialist theatre. Different rules and rougher play at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, where the more delicate suburban ladies and fragile tourists still shop pretending like it is 1968. At the end of the day, however, the homeless are still homeless at each place and night comes the same for all.
     
    The urban stories above are only about one part of the homeless population. There are two overlapping populations: those outside capacity of existing systems who depend on businesses and us to navigate, and those so far whacked and gone nothing exists to help them.

    It’s inevitable in a society that is constantly adding to its homeless population while simultaneously lacking any comprehensive way to provide medical treatment, all the while smoothing over the bumps on the street with plentiful supplies of alcohol and opioids (I was in line behind a homeless guy in liquor store paying with sock full of coins. He was 67 cents short for a bottle of no-name gin. What’s the right thing to do? I probably drink as much as he does most nights but it’s OK because I work for my money instead of begging? There are moral hurdles to navigate as well) are the severely mentally ill. These people exist outside the vast shelter system. They live outside, discarded, driven out of the overnights and the daytime Starbucks by violent or paranoid delusions. Even the recent killing of four homeless men by a fifth mentally ill homeless man failed to shock anyone into action.

    Navigating these people requires something more than a benign balancing of company profits and makeshift humanitarian gestures. At the Fulton Center subway station, problems with the mentally ill homeless reached a point where wire rope was installed alongside a made-up “no sitting” law to eliminate places to rest. A team of angry rent-a-cops make the homeless stand, wandering through the space waking up those who tumble, and chase away the worst. The sole working men’s room remains a kind of demilitarized zone, and it is not uncommon to see one man washing his clothes in the sink while another talks to himself as a third vocally struggles with his defecation. Most of the city’s such privately owned public spaces employ guards not against crime per se, but to enforce rules about how much baggage the homeless can bring in, whether they can sit, sleep, or have to pretend to buy something, and act as not gentle referees when a tourist snaps an unwanted photo and angers someone, or a homeless person otherwise becomes too aggressive with himself or another homeless person.

    There are of course other, more profitable, ways to navigate. San Diego created a “toolkit” to help businesses benignly wrangle the homeless without needing to involve the cops. NYC stores are told to invest in barbed grates that homeless can’t lay on comfortably (the hostile architecture of bars, protrusions and spikes that make it impossible to lie down on a park bench or wall are pretty much sculpted into the architecture of the city, markers of the struggle for public space. The idea even has its own Instagram account.) A private security firm offers more comprehensive solutions: advice about restricting access to sidewalk overhangs, alcoves, or other areas protected from inclement weather, remove handles from water spigots, and keep trash dumpsters locked when not being filled or emptied. If things get too bad, the company, for a price, will deploy “remote cameras integrated with military-grade algorithms capable of detecting people in areas they shouldn’t be in.” There are other ways to make money off the homeless, of course. Many of the shelters in NYC are contracted through private companies (fraud criss-crosses the system) , who charge the city about $80 per adult per night for an SRO room without its own indoor plumbing. Food stamps are distributed via Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT (some recipients claim the acronym really means “Eat Better Tonight.”) JPMorgan Chase holds the contracts in half the United States to handle the transactions. In New York that’s worth more than $112 million. But hey, Amazon now accepts EBT online in New York and you don’t even need Prime!

    A concise fable of what economic inequality has done to this city lies in canning, a nice term invented to describe the underground economy of returning aluminum cans for the five cents deposit. What was started in 1982 in hope the deposit would encourage consumer recycling alongside kids picking up cans to supplement their allowances, has become way to make a sort of living for an estimated 8,000 human beings. As the value of a nickel to many faded over the years, the need for a few bucks among the city’s growing homeless population grew. They started picking up cans for the money wealthier people set out as trash. The recycling centers in most food stores, however, hoping for return shoppers, did not want the homeless in their stores. Most set $12 daily redemption limits, often broken up in per can lots that forced the homeless to return two or three times. Streetside automated drop off points devolved into social centers for the homeless, including the infamous Pathway site at 125th Street that was renown as a drug market and dumping spot for the near-dead until it was closed down.
     
    Unable to redeem their cans, the homeless moved on, replaced by highly exploitive canning crews which buy cans in bulk from elderly pickers (many are retired or on disability) for about a $30 nightly haul per person, and who then deal directly with the bulk metal recyclers uptown. A five cent can might be worth only three cents on the street; competition among the people living off my garbage is sharp, where on a late night dog walk just before the bulk trucks arrive can crews run by Chinese organized crime (rumor is those who can’t work off human smuggling fees otherwise work the can routes) tussle with individuals for turf. The cops are uninterested and some local doormen try and intervene but often tire of the guff. It’s not a proud thing to witness.

    We’re a society built around economic inequality. We’ll all just have to learn to navigate our way through.
      

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  • Bernie and Reality of Economic Inequality

    February 16, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, 2020


     
    It is a good thing candidates like Bernie Sanders make economic inequality a campaign issue in 2020. But with apologies to the Bernieverse, he is well-meaning but like everyone else has no practical solutions. Bernie, et al, imagine there exists some means to redistribute wealth, most likely, following the economist Thomas Piketty, via a progressive tax on the wealthy. Just talking about that may be enough to scare the wealthy into putsching a corporate Democrat in place of Bernie once again despite the human shield of green-haired pierced volunteers, but even if he were to win he could not be enough to change America. It’s a reality problem.

    The reality of wealth is the gap between most Americans and those who sit atop our economy continues to grow. This is nothing new. For two decades after 1960, real incomes of the top five percent and the remaining 95 percent increased at almost the same rate, about four percent a year. But incomes diverged between 1980 and 2007, with those at the bottom seeing annual increases only half of that of those at the top. Then it got worse.

    Lower savings and hyper-available credit (remember fraudulent Countrywide mortgages, ARMs, and usurous re-fi’s?) put the middle and bottom portions of society on an unsustainable financial path that increased spending until it crashed into the Great Recession of 2008. Meanwhile, America’s top earners’ wealth grew; the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009 as the markets recovered, while the bottom ninety percent became poorer as their missing homes did not. Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision, wealth in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century. How did the rich pull this off?

    The reality of possession. They own stock and real estate, not just personal homes to live in. Less than half of Americans do not own any stock while the wealthiest of Americans own over 80 percent of all stock, and 40 percent of America’s land. It is worse on an international scale. Only 85 human beings own half of all the world’s stuff. Markets over time go up and those who own parts of them do well. People who do not own homes have to rent them from those that do own. Owners can raise rents as they think they can get away with. A rising tide lifts all yachts, as historian Morris Berman observed. It can be hard to understand this level of wealth; a few years ago the real estate site Redfin figured out Bill Gates could buy all of the real estate in Boston. Candidate Michael Bloomberg could pick up Anaheim. Google’s Larry Page is able to buy Boca Raton. Never mind yachts, they can buy whole cities.

     

    It is the reality of the system. Walmart associates make minimum wage. Most associates are nowhere near full-time, so their take home pay is well below the poverty threshold. Employer-paid Obamacare, such as it is, only kicks in after one works 20 hours a week or more, so following the implementation of that policy most employees were cut to less than 20 hours, meaning they had to juggle multiple jobs to live and still did not have healthcare. They might be working 60 hours a week at three different places but that did not qualify them for healthcare as the qualifying hours are not cumulative.

    In return for paying below-poverty wages, Walmart enjoys taxpayer subsidies of $5,815 per worker in the form of food stamps paid by the government to keep the workers nearer the poverty line than below it, and tax breaks given to “create jobs.” On their side of the ledger, a few years ago the top four members of the Walmart family made a combined $28.9 billion from their investments. Less than a third of that would have given every U.S. Walmart worker a $3.00 raise, enough to end the public subsidy, though the four Walmart scions would have to make due with only $20 billion a year. Essentially the interests of the 99 percent are in direct conflict with those of the one percent.

    But the real money from economic inequality is made in much bigger bites. Walmart can pay low wages, creating a new status known as working poor, without having to see workers literally starve on the job because their employees receive $2.66 billion in government poverty assistance each year. That works out to about $5,815 per worker, or about $420,000 per store. Food stamps, a generic term for food assistance, are a key part of navigating in and profiting from, income inequality. In one year under study nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts received more than $33 million in food stamp dollars spent at their stores, a fair amount by their own workers. In two years, Walmart received about half of the one billion dollars in food stamp expenditures in Oklahoma. Overall, 18 percent of all food benefits money nationwide is spent at Walmart. That’s about $14 billion.

     

    The reality of the system protects those who make massive amounts of money by owning things, as opposed to working for wages. So let’s Robin Hood those wealthy bastards, Bernie and Elizabeth and others say. Jeff Bezos’ net worth is $109 billion. But that’s everything he has, not just the six percent tax Elizabeth Warren wants him to pay. The net worth of the entire Forbes 400 is under three trillion dollars. That’s everything they all own, as if we killed them and took it. The reforms Elizabeth Warren proposed to address economic inequality will cost some $20 trillion. It does not exist.

    But you have to start somewhere, right?  Given that America’s largest companies already pay little to no tax, it is  unclear how such a system would ever be enforced in the long run before the wealthy offshore their money. Taxes still leave in place other factors driving economic inequality, including a system of higher taxes on wages than capital gains, inheritance laws (Money is immortal. The children of rich people are born rich and unless they get really into hookers and blow, will inevitably get richer. They almost can’t help it), and the ability of the wealthy to control wages and the availability of jobs. Unions are increasingly a thing of the past and automation threaten more jobs daily. The rich decide when to pull the trigger on touch screens in fast food restaurants and deep six cashier jobs, never mind the mass extinction driverless delivery vehicles will bring on, and the one after that when advances in AI crush entry-level coding jobs.

     

    The single most significant factor is that financial growth via capital ownership (what the rich do for money) always outstrips wage growth (what the rest of us do to get money.) Getting richer by owning stuff is always a better deal than trying to get rich by working for wages from the people who own stuff. Even if a magic wand reset society somehow, the nature of capitalism would soon set things back on the path to income inequality. This was French economist Thomas Piketty‘s significant finding. Rich people know about this even if poor people don’t. Rich people get money through capital gains, basically assets they buy cheaply becoming worth more over time (until slavery was replaced with the minimum wage, human beings were also considered as a form of capital asset. Seriously, check with human “resources” where you work.) That’s why a short-term downturn is bad for you, ultimately good for most of them. It’s why stock market trouble uninformed people wish for will not make Trump go away. Math!

    The only hope lies in the reality of politics, right? Over large swaths of the earth, there are no elections. In some of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East and Asia there is not even the pretext of anyone choosing a government. Most governments are controlled by family ascension, not unlike the Middle Ages or in more modern places corruption and manipulation. Power and wealth work together.

    Such is the case now in the United States. According to the once-prescient Lawrence Lessing (who has since lost his mind to Twitter and TDS), with the concentration of wealth, 132 people in the U.S. essentially control elections. They do so by donating, just that handful of people, over 60 percent of the SuperPac money. Those 132 people represent 0.000042 percent of the total number of voters; most other contributions to candidates are small, many below $200. It sounds nice when a candidate talks about it but it diffuses power even as you he owes you something now. It is impossible under such circumstances for government to create laws again the interests of the wealthy; after all, they work for them.

    The reality is there is no answer, no solution. That’s because things are working more or less as they are supposed to. From a certain perspective, income inequality means things are going according to the rigged rules. The system is designed to squeeze wealth up into a smaller and smaller group of hands. A by product is the creation of more and more poor and eventually homeless at the bottom. It is the inevitable end point for a society set up to fund the wealthy via capital appreciation by paying low or stagnant wages to everyone else.

    To say it can’t be is to ignore the last time in history when it sort of was, one king in one castle sustained by tens of thousands of serfs living in sloven conditions. The world has seen this before, for the West, during the Middle Ages, when feudalism was the dominant force. A very, very few owned most everything of value. The 99.999 percent majority — serfs then, valued Target associates now — worked for whatever the feudal lords allowed them to have.

    Of course this is all very wrong. It’s very American to believe there are always answers, that there are not forces stronger than change at work, especially in an election year. If you’re still looking for those answers — solutions — well, you’ve gotten to the end of the article.

      

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  • Dems, It’s Over. All the Smoking Guns Have Been Firing Blanks.

    February 8, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

    We are watching the pathetic ending to one of the most pathetic periods in American politics. All the smoking guns have been firing blanks.

    Following one of the most childish tantrums of denial ever recorded, you Democrats set about destroying the Trump presidency in its crib; a WaPo headline from January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day itself – exclaimed “The Campaign to Impeach President Trump has Begun.” The opening gambit was going to be Emoluments, including rent paid by the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China for its space in Trump Tower in New York.

    After three years, it looks like that attempt finally reached its end game, failure, one gray afternoon. Last Friday the Senate brought impeachment proceedings to their effective conclusion, declaring the witnesses already called before the House were to be the last. The formal vote to acquit Trump is scheduled as an anti-climax for Wednesday.

    It has been ugly and mean. Using the entire apparatus of the American intelligence community, operating fully outside the law, you declared the President of the United States a Russian spy. You forced gentlemen to explain to their elderly mothers what a pee tape was. We had to hear over dinner about Trump’s penis, his sexual mores, and look deeper into Stormy Daniel’s cleavage than our own political souls. You made expedient heroes out of small, dishonest men like Michael Avenatti, John Brennan, and James Comey for perceived political gain. Shame on you, Democrats.

    When Russiagate collapsed you plunged deeper, with a setup “crime” driven by a faux whistleblower, supported by State Department gossips and not much more. Look at the series of plays you tried even within this Hail Mary of a Hail Mary. Back in August your manufactured worry was Trump, by messing with Ukrainian aid, was a threat to national security that would send the Red Army rolling west. Then there was the continued attempt to link up created memes, Trump’s help from the Russians in 2016 and Trump’s help from the Ukrainians in 2020 were part of some whole to damage democracy. At the end it was to be about how not allowing additional witnesses chosen by leaks to the NYT would distort the 2020 election. One reporter called acquittal “the worst day for America since the Civil War.” We had to listen to another round of democracy dying, existential threats, end of the Republic, as repetitive as summer Top 40.

    At your decision the House chose not to wait out a special prosecutor, or even subpoena witnesses back in the fall. Your bleats today about no witnesses ignored how you called 17 witnesses to the House, not a single one of which had first-hand knowledge of the events unless we were willing to believe some State Department Obama fan-boy magically overheard both sides of a cell phone conversation. If you had had a real case a special prosecutor could have sorted through Parnas and Hunter and Bolton, with subpoenas if necessary, and warrants could have shown us exactly what was said in those calls. But that would have come up weaker than Mueller and you knew it.

    You don’t think voters see they were played — again? As with Brett Kavanaugh, when things seemed darkest, you produced a witness that appeared to turn everything around. Back then you unveiled Christine Blasey Ford as the deus ex machina, a woman scorned decades ago by a high school kid, now-Supreme Court judge, you called a drunk. Same with John Bolton and his “manuscript” (shall we call it a dossier?) and instead of dealing with it months ago in a calm fashion, the New York Times drops the leak right into the middle of the impeachment punch bowl so it could create its own sense of urgency saying we can’t wait for thoughtful deliberation or even a court ruling, we must do something right away.

    So really, in the end your game-changer was supposed to be lifelong conservative John Bolton ratting out a Republican administration? That was how you were going to get Trump? Only a week earlier it was going to be Ukrainian grifter Lev Parnas. Before him was it “fixer” Michael Cohen, or Paul “Fredo” Manafort, who was going to flip? Was it taxes or the 25th Amendment which was once upon a time going to be the final blow?

    Do you think voters won’t remember it was Adam Schiff who failed in Russiagate, issuing his infamous Schiff Memo defending as legal the FISA court surveillance of Carter Page now shown to be unconstitutional? The same Schiff who worked with the “whistleblower” to shape the impeachment narrative and then buried the whistleblower from scrutiny? History will remember Schiff poorly, and judge those who put their party’s future in his dirty hands, Nancy, equally poorly.

    As it will Elizabeth Warren, who submitted a “question” at the impeachment proceedings which asked if the proceedings themselves “contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?” Nancy Pelosi picked up the theme saying the president will not be exonerated after the Senate acquits because “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial. And you don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation,” echoing the insanity of saying a victory in the Electoral College isn’t really being elected president. Do Democrats think the Super Bowl victory went to the team with the most yards rushing, or the one with the most points scored?

    Impeachment failed in the Senate, ultimately, because it was phony. Senators are politicians, with their noses always in the wind. They sniffed not a modicum of support for this impeachment, and saw nothing akin to the evidence that would encourage them to return to their constituents and explain their contrary votes as they did confronted, overwhelmingly, with Nixon’s wrongdoings.

    It’s really over now. Our democracy, which you regularly declare so in peril, will be forced to hold an election of all things to determine its next president.

    Democrats, the shock of Trump’s 2016 victory was such that voters were ready to follow you anywhere to defeat him in 2020. You led them off a cliff. As your supporters watched you create false excuses for losing, they watched Republicans confirm judge after judge. As they listened in their sleep to you bark about diversity, they woke up to see mostly a handful of old, white men to lead the party into the election.

    You lied to them repeatedly about Russia and Ukraine. You lied to them over and over about what a danger Trump is, bringing people who once believed in you to believe their own nuclear destruction was imminent over Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela. You continue to try to convince people a strong economy is an illusion and cheer on a recession. You shoved forward as surrogates the anti-semites who organized the Pussy Hat march, the media-abused Parkland Kids, Greta the Amazing Climate Change Girl, flashes-in-the-pan like Beto! Kamala! Cory! AOC! Mayor Pete! Stacey Abrams!

    You continue to paint an inaccurate picture of a society with gun nuts, Nazis, and white supremacists on the march. You convinced a generation of young voters they are fundamentally unhappy, awash in racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and when they just can’t see it the way you do, you corrupted movies and TV with dorm room level political piety to insist that is how it is out there. Now, instead of respecting one another at work and school, they tip-toe around as wanna-be defendants looking for targets to sue or complain to HR about. Describe yourself in one word? Offended.

    The hollow shout “It is all unfair!” after things don’t go your way echos from the third grade playground to 2016 to HR to impeachment.

    Would you trust the nation to the people the Democratic party has become? Because that is the question you have thrust into the minds of voters. As you have said many times, this was always more about America than it was about Trump.

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  • Who’s Got the Rocks to Stand Up to Government?

    February 6, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

     

    “I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened w punishment or death. We must not allow the US to become a country where standing up to our gov is a dangerous act.”
       
     — says Marie Yovanovitch from her well-funded State Dept retirement.
     

     

    “What does that bitch know about standing up to government?”
     

    — might say Chelsea Manning from her jail cell.

         

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  • Lev Parnas is Not the Impeachment Witness You are Looking For…

    January 29, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump


     

    Lev Parnas is who we all hope is the last “Did too! Did Not!” player in the three year effort to find someway to  drive Trump from office.

     

    Parnas is a Ukrainian-born “businessman” who claims to be the missing link between Trump and evidence needed to impeach. Parnas is also under indictment for breaking campaign-finance laws by disguising donations from foreign entities to unnamed U.S. politicians, and so is singing like the girl from Frozen to be let go. The media christened him the new White Knight of democracy. Is he?
     

    Nah. Parnas is mostly an opportunist, with notes of stalker, groupie, and crazy guy who imagines Jodi Foster is in love with him from afar. He takes his place as the Hail Mary play in the blob that is impeachment now. He joins James Comey, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti and his aggrieved porn stars, Christopher Steele, the tattered Russian oligarchs still waiting for their checks from Christopher Steele, The Masked Whistleblower, and so many others who came before them.

    Though the media label him a Rudy Giuliani henchman, associate, thug, or fixer, and thus by extension a Trump henchman, associate, thug, or fixer, Parnas instead paid Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for “business and legal advice.” He didn’t work for Guliani, Giuliani worked for him. And in the you-can’t-make-this-up category, Parnas’ company is called Fraud Guarantee.

    Parnas was supposedly paying for the privilege of being used to gather dirt on Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, which begs the question of why. As America’s ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch served at the pleasure of the president. Trump did not need a reason to fire her. He did not need dirt gathered. He could simply instruct the State Department to recall her (or any other ambassador) and that’s that. It happens all the time without the need for third party cloak-and-dagger work by a B-grade Clouseau. Yet Parnas has gone on at length about the process of firing Yovanovitch being so difficult the most powerful man in the world with the Article II-guaranteed right to fire someone needed Parnas’ help.

    Actually the only “work” Parnas wanted in return for this generous payments to Rudy was the appearance of access, grip-and-grin photos, a sleazy form of currency in the markets people like him travel through in Eastern Europe and Asia. They decorate the walls of fast talkers across the globe, like the “awards” small town real estate agents and insurance brokers favor. So via his payments to Giuliani and his generous donations, Parnas amassed photos of him and Trump. Those photos are the cornerstone of Democrats’ case against Trump, who says he really does not know Parnas. See, there are pictures, what the media insist now are to be called “receipts.”

    You want some photos with the big boys and girls? Easy. You write a modest check to a campaign. You get invited to a campaign event for a quick picture, maybe at first with a tier-two Trump kid. You write a bigger check, you get invited to another event and maybe are led past the Man himself for a quick snap. More money, better photos. Start to bundle donors, and you get invites to “private” breakfasts attended by dozens of people with a drop-by from the candidate. None of this means you “know” Trump or he knows you. You or may not exchange a word of greeting as the photos are taken in assembly-line fashion. And of course if your politics runs Democrat, these same photos are available with Biden, Bernie, Pete, or whomever. For a price. Now, show us a photo of you with Trump in matching Speedos poolside and you’ll have our attention.

    Along with most of the media and American public, sleazy businesspeople in Eastern Europe don’t seem to grasp the meaningless of these photos, and imagine a guy like Trump isn’t using Parnas as an ATM while a guy like Parnas isn’t using Trump for pretend status. Meanwhile, as con men do, Parnas was going around Ukraine telling everyone, without any evidence, he was working for Giuliani and Trump, gathering dirt on the American ambassador. But there was always a little wiggle room in the actual relationship — note the “like” when Parnas said “I became like Rudy’s assistant, his investigator.” How one works for someone one is paying is, like, unclear. Parnas, like generations of grifters before him, is free to go around claiming he is important and trying to tie himself to important people but none of that makes it true.

    In fact, perhaps having been introduced to the legal term perjury or its vernacular cousin “lying” by his defense attorney John Dowd, a former Trump lawyer he and the media made a big deal out of hiring, Parnas further qualified his relationship with Trump to say “I mean, we’re not friends. Me and him didn’t watch football games together. We didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were.”

    Following his indictment and ahead of impeachment proceedings Parnas has become a one-man media event. He claimed to Federal Elvis-level investigator Rachel Maddow he knew Trump knew everything bad that was going on, though admits he never spoke substantively to Trump and his knowledge is second or third hand at best. To say he was photographed with Trump at fundraisers is miles from claiming Trump directed him in the Ukraine caper which in fact even Parnas does not claim. The media has done that for him, imaging a selfie is a receipt for impeachable offenses.

    And of course there’s more as the story oozes downhill from drama into comedy. Remember how the Russians had Trump on tape with prostitutes? And how the media headlined Michael Cohen had incriminating tapes of Trump no one ever heard? Parnas supposedly has tapes, too! Parnas also introduced a somewhat dubious legal gambit. Without evidence he accused Attorney General Bill Barr of being involved in all things Ukraine, and thus must recuse himself from Parnas’ campaign finance illegal donations case due to this “conflict of interest.” Parnas also accused Vice President Pence of “having to have known” about the Ukraine stuff. Parnas dismissed hints in a text by an alcoholic Trump supporter that Ambassador Yovanovitch was under Giuliani-ordered surveillance and/or the target of assassination. Democrats have called for an investigation anyway. And the fact that Parnas chose to reveal all on the Maddow show, as opposed to a proffer, or under oath anywhere, should not distract from his credibility.

     

    Enough. There is no evidence Parnas ever spoke substantively about Ukraine with Trump. There is no evidence supporting Parnas’ claims he in any way worked with, at the direction of, or otherwise for Trump. His statements now, only after indictment, raise significant questions about his credibility and thus demand supporting evidence. Selfies with Trump are not supporting evidence. Nothing corroborates Parnas but Parnas.

    That ends Parnas’ value as a potential witness in these impeachment hearings. But what about his enablers in the media without whom he’d be telling his tall tales to the cafeteria ladies at some Federal prison facility?

    The old adage about not being able to cheat an honest person extends to the media; a con man can only be elevated to the national stage by a dishonest media willing to ignore his lack of credibility for its own agenda. And so the same people who drove the Russiagate train for years embrace Parnas as the new smoking gun. The NYT’s own queen of that particular swamp, Maggie Haberman, admitted “One of the hallmarks of the Trump era is anybody who is oppositional to Trump gets instant credibility. We’ve seen it over and over again. Michael Avenatti, Cohen even at points, even when he was admitting he was lying to Congress at some point after he pleaded guilty to other charges.” That’s a hell of a thing for Haberman to say given how much credibility she and her paper of record have bestowed on a parade of transparent liars.

    This all started three years ago with Christopher Steele, who at least had a nicely-typed dossier and an MI6 pedigree. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a few of the others probably did know things even if they didn’t snitch out. But now we’re down to the media primping a guy who before he was a recognized as a savior by CNN was called by CNN a radioactive wolf who shook down Ukrainians pretending he had a connection to the White House.

    With impeachment soon to be over and the Democratic primaries starting hopefully there won’t be bandwidth left for another round of this with whoever feeds even further below Lev Parnas. The list of people who have been used by the media to try to bring Trump down is long. Most of them are now in jail, were fired or disgraced, or received Pulitzer Prizes. Time for this to end. Maggie, come get your people, they’re embarrassing themselves out here.

      

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  • Defamation: Enter Sandmann v. CNN

    January 25, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    Once again a geopolitical event — this time, the killing of an Iranian General — was falsely blown by agenda-driven journalism into ItIsWWIIIWeAreAllGonnaDieBecauseTrump and then within a handful of days we realize no, not the case. Again.

    The facts never support the media contentions, but the facts seem to matter little. The need to drive an agenda,  Orange Man Bad, controls.

    Remember how Trump will start WWIII with China over Taiwan’s inauguration phone call, Trump will start global economic war with China trade sanctions, Trump will start WWIII by withdrawing from NATO, Trump will start a wider war in Syria bombing Russian bases, Trump will start a  war moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Trump will start WWIII pulling out of Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement, Trump will start WWIII with North Korea, Trump will sell out the U.S. to get peace with North Korea because he wants a cheap Nobel, Trump will start WWIII because he is Hitler, erratic, mentally ill, impulsive, isolated, Trump will ___ to distract from Mueller, Comey, impeachment, Trump will start a war over Venezuela, Trump will start a genocide of Kurds with Turkey, Trump will start a Mideast war after Iran attacked a Saudi oil facility or shot down a drone, Trump will start a civil war inside the U.S. after Charlottesville, or to stop the midterms, or to prevent the next election, or he won’t leave if he loses, Trump is a Russian asset, Trump owes Putin billions, Trump is Putin’s cockholster, Trump is a pee tape sex pervert, Trump will start a recession, Trump will trigger a depression, Trump is rich from emoluments, Trump is almost bankrupt with hidden taxes, the stock market will crash, trade wars will end global capitalism, Trump killed all the Puerto Ricans, Trump will take away health care, Trump will imprison LGBTQXYZ people, Trump will end legal abortion, Trump has America on the brink…

    One can find dozens of articles on any of the subjects above. By my count the NYT’s Paul Krugman predicted LINK a Trump recession 17 individual times, the first even before inauguration, alongside many more instances of the clear and present dangers of tax cuts, market bubbles, tariffs, and more. MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow devoted her entire show for about two years to the walls closing in on Trump, repeating “tick tock” like some modern version of the Rain Man.

    Columnist Max Boot in The Washington Post put into writing what we have all known for some time: real journalism, Jefferson’s informed citizenry and all that, is dead. The job has shifted to agenda writing, just plain made-up stuff to drive events. Boot is at least honest that he writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.”

    The worst agenda journalism reads like bad anti-Trump fan fiction, worse than the basement Star Wars stuff where Leia always ends up without her golden bikini. Trump is a spy. Trump digs golden showers. Turn around his jest, and if Trump saved a man’s life in the middle of Fifth Avenue Don Lemon would explain that night why that was wrong, and an existential threat to the rest of us if not Democracy itself. If it doesn’t pass even the sniff test, well, it was designed to. When writing for a fan fiction audience one simply need to feed them the raw meat they crave (naked Leia, Orange Man Bad.) Truth, subtlety, challenging thought have no place and indeed no value. That’s kind of what you expect when the goal is basement Solo pleasures, but it is now one of the drivers of the national mainstream media in America.

     

    The giveaway that journalism is near-singularly devoted to an agenda, frightening the public in service of driving Trump somehow from office, is how the mistakes are always wrong in same direction. Meanwhile none of the people who keep track of the lies Trump tells and who are demanding “fact checks” before ads are allowed to run on social media seem to spend any time on the other side of the equation. Who would accept a track record this bad from their doctor, lawyer, their nail technician (“No, seriously, cracked nails are hot this year, it was in the NYT”)? Is there any price to be paid for agenda journalism?

    Assuming credibility, professionalism, and self-respect are apparently worth about zero, the price tag for agenda journalism looks to be about $25 million. That’s what CNN is reported to have paid settling a defamation case brought by Covington High School student Nick Sandmann charging the network “maintained a well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald Trump and established a history of impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.” The amount is probably half what CNN spends yearly just on botox for Anderson Cooper but as Cooper’s estheticians are prone to say, it’s a start.

    Almost a year ago to the day Sandmann and his Catholic school classmates traveled to Washington, DC to join anti-abortion protests. Sandmann was photographed grinning at a Native American DC protest regular. The media with one mighty flatulent blast knew what to do. Based solely on a YouTube clip, outlets like CNN and WaPo imagined Sandmann, wearing his MAGA cap, as the distillation of everything evil, some redneck crapper from Kentucky a hatin’ women and a protestin’ them abortions and rubbing his smug grin in the face of a noble Native American POC supposedly trying to defuse a tense situation with native drumming. The drummer was also quickly (but wrongly) glorified as a Vietnam Vet.

    Blue Check Twitter suggested Sandmann be punched in the face, and veiled suggestions of mob action led to threats, Sandmann’s family temporarily run out of their home, the kid dropped from school trips, and other disciplinary action to include coerced apologies. The second wave was pearl clutching Op-Eds about what Trump has turned us into, and look, it has spread to The Children. The media implied Sandmann deserved it because of his politics. Contrast that treatment with the beatification bestowed on #Resistance kids like Greta Thunberg, and the good victims of the Parkland shooting (the Parkland kid who supports the Second Amendment meanwhile was media-doxxed out of his Harvard scholarship.)

    Not only was all of that absolutely wrong (Sandmann was never an aggressor, and alongside his peers, said nothing in return to those taunting him, even though CNN claimed they “looked like they were going to lynch” the Black Hebrew Israelites who actually started the whole thing) it wasn’t even news. Students on a field trip, with the media appointing Sandmann their symbolic oberfuhrer, were fashioned into props to fit the characterization people who wear MAGA hats are intolerant. The media cared little for the truth when they had their entire white nationalist anti-Trump agenda as they imagine it exists packaged in one handy snapshot.

    The media counts on America to forget their propaganda fails and move on. Only this time it turned out differently. Sandmann is suing a range of journalists individually, including Maggie Haberman, Ana Navarro, and Shaun King for slurs they threw at him on Twitter, and their employers for directing their massive global platforms to beat up an innocent high school kid. Included in the swath of lawsuits by Sandmann are CNN, MSNBC’s parent company, the AP, Gannett, and the Washington Post. In the words of the suit, they “brought down the full force of [their] corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child.”

    Representative Ilhan Omar, who tweeted the boys yelled “it’s not rape if you enjoy it” when they did not, is exempt from the suit as a public office holder. “Comedian” Bill Maher, who called Sandmann a profane name on TV, also likely enjoys a legal exemption for satire. Maher topped off his coverage of the events by making a child rape joke about Sandmann, stating “I do not get what Catholic priests see in these kids.”

     

    While the many suits are pending, this month CNN independently reached a cash settlement with Sandmann, one of those we-sorta-admit-it but legally do not admit, in the words of the lawsuit, to defaming Sandmann by accusing him of “engaging in racist conduct” without properly investigating the incident. The suits contend CNN and the others would have “known the statements to be untrue had they undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication.” In other words, CNN willfully failed to commit journalism, the finding of facts, the asking of questions in lieu of packaging what was actually nothing at all into a steamy piece to fit an existing agenda.

    With a win in Sandmann’s pocket and as his cases against the other media outlets work their way through the courts, others also appear ready to challenge agenda journalism via the defamation laws. Ten more Covington high school students are now suing various media for defamation. Elsewhere, writer Peter Brimelow is suing the NYT for labeling him an “open white nationalist.” Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald Trump, filed suit against Fox a month ago claiming defamation. George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, filed a defamation suit against HarperCollins, the Martin family lawyer’s publisher. Trump critic and Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig is suing the NYT, accusing them of publishing “false and defamatory” information about him. Melania is suing all sorts of outlets for defamation. Representative Devin Nunes sued CNN last month claiming the network defamed him with false reports he traveled to Vienna to meet with the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden helped oust in 2016.

    Under current law, most of those suits will fail. Going forward, how powerful a weapon defamation lawsuits might prove to be against agenda journalism will depend on how flexible the courts choose to be. Historically they have given great leeway to anyone, journalist or not, who appears to libel (an untrue defamatory statement in writing) or slander (same, but orally) public figures. The idea is if you put yourself out there as an actor, or a politician, you’re expected to take a few slings and arrows and so the standards of proof are higher. This is what allows tabloids like the National Enquirer to get away with making up stories about popular figures as their basic trade. Defamation as a business practice was once upon a time what they did, and not what places like the media of record are now about.

    The major defenses against defamation are truth, or that the alleged defamatory statement was a statement of opinion. If CNN were to prove Nunes did go to Vienna as reported, that would end his suit. One woman who claims Trump raped her several decades ago is now suing him, claiming his Constitutionally-protected statement of innocence defamed her. Her suit demands he prove the truth of his denial to escape judgement. Opinion is exempt when it is truly some sort of opinion — Nunes is the worst Congressman ever — and not just when it is fudged along the likes of “This reporter’s opinion is Nunes traveled to Vienna.”

    The hope would be justice recognizes a new media environment has crawled out from the mud, one which drags innocent people onto the national stage unnecessarily and without context in a way which is unethical and exploitative. And that even public figures, never mind the voters who select them, deserve accurate, factual reporting.

    Yeah, one can hope. But in the case of CNN and Nick Sandmann, it appears the network would rather pay out a couple of million dollars then to roll the dice to see what a court would say. And hey, small world: Nick Sandmann’s attorney, Lin Wood, is the same person who successfully represented Richard Jewell in his defamation suit against CNN years ago, when the network falsely labeled him the Atlanta Olympic Park bomber.

    In a rare breath of self-examination, columnist David Brooks wrote “Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable. The anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.”

    That CNN has not made any noticeable changes in its stream of agenda journalism since the original incident a year ago, or since settling with Sandmann, suggests what they paid out is to them a reasonable price to continue to lie to the American public. Defamation settlements are just another business expense. The Founders assigned journalism a specific role to ensure that citizens would be able to carry out informed debates. Truth, they understood, is more than an ideal, it is a perspective. Yet over the last three years serious journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush to do away with Trump, not by honest persuasion but by any means necessary. Fear won out, and so objectivity is now #Collusion. Seeking facts before going viral is so 2015. The media picks on kids because they can’t get Trump. We asked for an informed citizenry and we got Mean Girls.

     

     

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